Californians love their state flower and is there any wonder when the golden poppy is simply stunning, especially when it spreads across entire hillsides in Antelope Valley or Lake Elsinore? People love the flowers so much that many people actually believe picking California poppies is illegal, but the good news is that it is legal to pick golden poppies -depending on the circumstances. Here’s what aspiring poppy pickers should know, as well as some related information on picking fruit from public trees.
Is Picking California Poppies Legal?
Contrary to the claims of many armchair lawyers, picking golden poppies is entirely legal -as long as the poppies are yours to pick. The basis for this myth comes from California Penal Code 384a, which states that it is illegal to cut, destroy, mutilate or remove plant material on public property or someone else’s property without their permission. This law essentially makes it illegal to pick, vandalize or otherwise harm plants that don’t belong to you unless the owner has given you permission. The law doesn’t care if the plants are golden poppies, roses, pine trees or even a whole thicket of weeds though.
If you are caught for picking California poppies illegally, you can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Does That Make it Illegal to Pick Fruit From Public Trees?
You might read that law and assume this also means that it is illegal to pick fruit from public trees, but here’s where things get a little more complex. In fact, because picking fruit doesn’t generally harm the fruit trees, which would otherwise drop the fruit, courts have generally held that it is legal to pick fruit from public trees, or even fruit from a tree in someone’s yard provided the specific piece of fruit in question is hanging over the public sidewalk or into your yard.
But things can get confusing here because if you cut off part of the stem to get the fruit, then you may have actually damaged the tree and broken the law. On the other hand, if a tree straddles the property line, then both neighbors are entitled to its fruit and have the right to trim the tree.
Taking Someone Else’s Fruit or Flowers Without Permission
On a related note, taking fruit from someone’s tree that is not reaching over the sidewalk is considered theft. Since it would be difficult to take more than $950 worth of fruit, most fruit thieves will be charged with petty theft, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
That being said, if you take more than $250 worth of fruit, vegetables or fowl from a working farm or orchard, you can actually face grand theft charges due to a unique portion of the legal code written exclusively to protect farms. You could potentially face petty theft charges and charges related to damaging someone else’s plants if you take their flowers without permission. San Diego County has a thriving avocado growing industry in the North County. The police and prosecutors treat avocado theft seriously so don’t mistakenly think taking a few bags of avocados from a farm will go unnoticed.
Either way, the best thing to do if you want to get your hands on someone’s fruit or flowers is to ask them. Many people are willing to give these away to those who ask politely.
When to Call a Lawyer
If you have any questions about whether it is legal to take fruit, cut a tree or pick flowers, it’s best to call a criminal attorney rather than risk any civil or legal repercussions. If you are accused of harming a public plant or someone else’s plant, a lawyer can be critical in defending you and will often be able to have the charges dropped in exchange for paying restitution to the victim. You can schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss by calling (760) 643-4050.
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