Basic trespassing, filed under California Penal Code 602 (PC), involves entering someone’s property without permission or a right to do so. This offense is usually only charged as an infraction or misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or jail sentence. On the other hand, aggravated trespassing, filed under California Penal Code section 601 (PC), is a much more serious offense under the law as it occurs when someone trespasses within 30 days of making a threat against the person who owns the property, or a neighbor or employee of that property. If you have been accused of any trespassing crime, please call a San Diego criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Trespassing Laws in California
In most cases, trespassing in California is a relatively minor crime, filed under 602 (PC). This offense involves simply entering someone’s fenced-off property without permission or illegally entering a property marked with a “no trespassing” sign. Basic trespassing is only an infraction, punishable by a $75 fine for a first-time offense and a $250 fine for subsequent violations.
More serious trespassing cases are filed as misdemeanors and involve someone trespassing on another person’s property by entering that property without permission and then interfering with another person’s property rights. Businesses are also considered private property, though to be considered trespassing on the property of a shop open to the public, you must have entered outside of company hours or have refused to leave after being asked to do so.
Examples of interfering with an owner’s right to their property include committing vandalism or illegally occupying someone else’s land. Alternatively, these charges can be filed when someone refuses to leave a property after being asked to do so. These misdemeanor-level crimes are punishable by up to 6 months of jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.
Can Trespassing be Charged as a Felony?
Yes. When someone is accused of aggravated trespassing (as defined in California Penal Code Section 601 (PC)), the offense may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. Aggravated trespassing occurs when a person has made a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury to another person and then, within 30 days of making the threat, trespassed onto the threat victim’s property, workplace, or a property next to their home with the intent to cause serious bodily injury to the victim.
Because they involve a real danger to the victim, aggravated trespass offenses are taken very seriously by both police and prosecutors. If you have been accused of breaking this law, contact an attorney as soon as possible. Remember that whatever you say to the police can be used against you later on.
Penalties for Aggravated Trespassing
State law allows aggravated trespass offenses to be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the crime and the suspect’s criminal history. When charged as a misdemeanor, it can carry a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. As a felony, penalties can include up to 3 years in prison.
Additionally, many people accused of aggravated trespass in California will also be charged with other crimes, including domestic violence, stalking, burglary, and assault. Even when all of the evidence points to your guilt though, your San Diego trespassing attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain to reduce the charges against you from 601 to 602 (PC) or ensure that you only face a misdemeanor, rather than felony-level charges. Additionally, your defense counsel may be able to work with the District Attorney to minimize the number of charges you face if you have been accused of any related criminal acts.
Fighting Trespassing Charges
When it comes to simple trespassing charges, the best defenses usually involve arguing that you had, or thought you had, the right to be on the property. For example, if the owner invited you onto the property and never asked you to leave, you did not commit a crime. Similarly, if you were on a piece of land that was not fenced in and did not have a “no trespassing” sign, you cannot be accused of violating 602 (PC).
The offense also must be committed willfully. So, for example, if your car rolled off an eroding embankment on the side of the road and onto someone’s private property, you cannot be accused of interfering with the owner’s property rights —even if the vehicle caused substantial property damage.
To prove aggravated charges, the prosecution must successfully show that you:
- made one or more credible, criminal threats to cause serious bodily harm to the victim
- issued the threat within the days prior to the date of your alleged trespass
- trespassed on the victim’s property, their workplace, or on a property next to their home
- intended to carry out the previously made threat
If they cannot show all three of these factors are true, you cannot be convicted of aggravated trespassing under California law. It is often difficult for prosecutors to prove all of these factors, particularly that you intended to carry out the threat.
In cases where there is credible evidence that you violated this law, seeking immediate psychological counseling is a key component of your defense. Regardless of your true intent, it makes prosecutors and judges nervous when people have taken any step to advance a threat, and this action can help you in court.
If you have been accused of any kind of trespassing crime in California, Peter M. Liss can help you fight the charges -especially if you are charged with a serious aggravated felony offense related to 601 (PC). Please contact his office at (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.