Trespassing involves entering someone else's property or land without their permission or legal right. It can occur across various properties, from private residences to commercial buildings, farmlands, and privately owned natural areas or parks. In California, the classification of trespassing can differ significantly based on the particular circumstances of the offense and the defendant's prior criminal record. You can either face a felony, misdemeanor, or non-criminal infraction charge. Consequently, the severity of the imposed penalties varies accordingly.

If you are charged with trespass, seeking legal representation becomes imperative. A skilled attorney can prove pivotal in mitigating potential consequences, possibly resulting in charges being dismissed or reduced. This is especially the case when the situation involves complex factors or considerations. Our experience handling criminal prosecution, especially trespass, makes the California Criminal Lawyer Group best suited to offer you legal representation. Call us if you face trespass charges in Anaheim.

Various Acts of Trespass Under Penal Code 602

Several activities outlined under PC 602 fit the statute’s definition of trespassing. Some of the more common activities that would result in trespass charges include the following:

  • Entering another person’s property deliberately intending to inflict damage upon the premises.
  • Illegally occupying another person's property, disregarding their authorization or permission.
  • Gaining entry to another person’s property to disrupt or obstruct the regular course of business activities carried out there.
  • Driving a vehicle on private property not open to the public without the owner's consent.
  • Failing to honor the property owner's request or the directives of authorized personnel to leave or vacate private property.
  • Extracting soil, dirt, or stone from another's land without prior consent.
  • Declining to cooperate with screening processes implemented at airports or courthouses.
  • Destroying, damaging, or removing signboards, signs, or notices placed on private or public property, including those related to highways, roads, or fire protection.
  • Entering and occupying real property or structures without the owner's or lawful possessor's consent.
  • Refusing to leave a motel and refusing to pay.

The less common activities that PC 602 considers a crime include the following:

  • Cutting down, injuring, or destroying wood or timber on someone else's land.
  • Entering private lands where oysters or shellfish are planted or growing and injuring, gathering, or carrying away these without the owner's permission.
  • Entering lands or buildings where animals are raised for human consumption and causing harm to the animals or the property.

Elements of the Crime

Whatever the activity, the elements of the case remain the same. The prosecution must prove These aspects of the case beyond reasonable doubt for the jury to convict you. These elements include:

  • You willfully entered the land or property belonging to another without the owner's consent.
  • Your entry onto the property was explicitly done to interfere with the owner's property.
  • Your actions interfered with the owner's property.

Willful Action

Acting "willfully" refers to a person's deliberate and conscious intention to engage in a particular action or behavior, fully aware of possible consequences. This term implies purposeful conduct, indicating that the individual intentionally commits the act rather than doing so accidentally or unintentionally.

Interfering With the Owner's Rights

Interfering with the owner's rights involves engaging in actions or conduct that encroach upon or violate the lawful rights and privileges granted to the property owner. These acts include:

  • Theft.
  • Unauthorized use of the property.
  • Damaging the property, or.
  • Causing disturbance to the owner's property or possessions.

Possible Defenses in a Trespass Case

Several defenses are available in a trespass case. Your defense attorney will rely on the specific facts of your case to determine the most suitable defense strategy, which will result in the most favorable legal outcome.

  1. You Had the Owner’s Consent or a Legal Right to be on the Property

In a trespass case, establishing consent as a defense relies on having explicit permission or authorization from the property owner or an authorized individual to be on the premises. Your success in using the consent defense depends on proving that your actions were lawful and aligned with the express approval of those with the authority to grant access. The strength of this defense can significantly influence the case's outcome, potentially resulting in the charges being dismissed or reduced. It is crucial to provide credible and reliable evidence demonstrating the consent you received from the relevant parties to bolster the effectiveness of this defense.

Some of the evidence you can use to demonstrate the owner’s consent includes:

  • Written permission — Strong evidence of consent can be found in written documents, letters, or emails that permit you to enter the property.
  • Verbal authorization — Valuable evidence can come from witnesses who can testify that they heard the property owner or an authorized person permitting you to be on the property.
  • Text messages or digital communications — Evidence in the form of text messages or digital communications showing consent from the property owner or an authorized person can be used to support your defense.

Alternatively, you can prove to the court that you have a legal right to be on the premises. You can prove your legal rights to the property by presenting the following:

  • Lease or rental agreement — As a tenant with a valid lease or rental agreement, you possess the right to occupy and utilize the property per the terms of the agreement.
  • License or invitation — If you were invited onto the property by the owner or an authorized person or had a valid license or permit for access, you were lawfully entitled to be there.
  • Easement or right-of-way — When the property owner grants you an easement or right-of-way, you gain legal access to specific areas of the property.
  • Public property — If the property is open to the general public and you were not engaged in any prohibited activities, your presence is lawful.
  1. No Willful Intent

If you happened to be on the property unintentionally or by accident, without any intent to trespass, you can claim the lack of willful intent as a defense. Suppose circumstances beyond your control led you to be misdirected, confused, or mistaken about the property boundaries, thus unintentionally entering the premises. This can be presented as evidence to support your lack of willful intent.

It is necessary to emphasize that your actions had no malicious purpose and no intention to interfere with the property owner's rights. You can assert that your presence on the property was entirely innocent and without any harmful motive.

Even if you mistakenly believed you had permission to be on the premises, as long as that belief was made in good faith, it can be used to show your lack of willful intent.

Some of the evidence you can use to support your claim includes:

  • Statements from individuals who witnessed the incident and can verify that you were on the property unintentionally.
  • Records of your GPS or navigation system showing your intended route or destination can help establish that you did not plan to be on the real property in question.
  • The lack of clear warning signs or notices indicating that entry was prohibited can be argued as a factor contributing to your belief that your presence was authorized.
  • If security cameras or surveillance recordings capture the incident, they could reveal your accidental entry or demonstrate your lack of intent to trespass.
  • Any past communication with the property owner or authorized person regarding your access to the property can be beneficial in showing your lack of willfulness.
  1. You Did Not Interfere With Any Activities On The Property

You can also demonstrate that your presence on the premises did not impede, obstruct, or interfere with any activities to challenge the trespass charges. This defense centers on your actions having no detrimental effect on the lawful activities of the property owner or any authorized individuals.

You should provide compelling evidence that substantiates the following:

  • Lack of interference — Your actions did not cause any disruption, interruption, or disturbance to the activities being carried out by the property owner or any authorized parties on the premises.
  • Innocuous presence — Your presence on the real property was entirely innocent and neither caused harm nor damage to the property or its occupants.
  • Non-involvement — You were not engaged in any activities that could have encroached upon the property owner's rights or threatened their safety or security.
  • Lack of malicious intent — Emphasizing that you had no malicious intentions to disrupt or harm the property owner's interests can substantially support your defense.
  • Demonstrating your willingness to leave the property promptly upon being asked or realizing that you lacked authorization can indicate your lack of intent to interfere.
  1. You Acted Out of Necessity

The necessity defense, also known as the defense of justification, offers a legal avenue to be used in specific trespass cases. Its foundation lies in arguing that, although you could have technically trespassed onto someone else's property, you did so out of necessity to prevent greater harm or respond to an emergency.

This defense requires you to demonstrate several critical elements:

  • You must establish that you reasonably believed there was an imminent danger or threat of harm to yourself or others.
  • You had no other reasonable alternative available at the time to avoid the impending danger or harm except by trespassing onto the property.
  • Proportionality — The core of this defense lies in proving that the harm or danger posed by trespassing was comparatively less severe than the harm that would have occurred if you had refrained from taking action.

Additionally, to strengthen your defense, you should emphasize that you did not contribute to the situation that led to the necessity by showing you have no history of prior unlawful conduct in connection with the circumstances.

  1. Lack of Signs or Fences

The "no signs or fence" defense is applicable in trespass cases. You can argue that you were unaware of the property being off-limits for entry due to the absence of physical barriers, like fences or "no trespassing" signs. You can challenge the prosecution's allegations by presenting evidence proving the property lacked complete enclosure or that the mandatory signs were not adequately displayed.

If the property is claimed to be fenced or enclosed, you could raise the argument that openings or gaps in the fence provided easy access, undermining the notion of complete enclosure. Additionally, if the fence was in disrepair or lacked clear boundaries, you can contend that it did not meet the legal criteria for a fully enclosed property.

Regarding the "no trespassing" signs, you can question their sufficiency and positioning. The law requires these signs to be posted at specific intervals to provide ample warning to potential intruders. By demonstrating that the signs were not prominently displayed, obscured from view, or absent in certain areas, you can assert that you did not receive proper notice about trespassing.

Some of the evidence you could present in support of this defense includes the following:

  • Visual evidence is important. It includes photographs or videos depicting the condition of the property, for example. They must highlight any gaps or openings in the fence or provide evidence of the absence of clear boundaries.
  • Security camera footage, if accessible, could reveal crucial details about the property's state. This information includes whether "no trespassing" signs were present or absent, potentially indicating whether the property was open to the public.
  • Testimonies from witnesses provide firsthand accounts regarding the property's condition. These witnesses could confirm the presence or absence of signs and share any knowledge about historical permissive access to the property, thereby bolstering the defense.

Sentencing and Penalties for Trespassing

As mentioned earlier, the penalties for trespassing vary depending on the charges you face.

Trespass as an Infraction

A violation of PC 602 is an infraction if:

  • You intentionally entered another person’s land without their permission, and
  • The land had a “no trespassing” sign or was enclosed by a fence.

Infractions are punishable by:

  • $75 in fines for first offenders.
  • $250 for second offenders on the same land.

Misdemeanor Trespass

Most prosecutors pursue trespass as a misdemeanor violation. Convictions are punishable by:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year,
  • Fines not exceeding $1,000, or both.

Felony Trespass

Felony trespass is also referred to as aggravated trespass. This violation is addressed under PC 601. You will likely face aggravated trespass charges if the following are true:

  • You make a believable or credible threat to gravely injure another individual to induce fear for that person's safety.
  • In the 30-day period following the threat, you enter the person's property or workplace intending to carry out the threat.

Aggravated trespass is a wobbler offense. You can face misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted.

If convicted on misdemeanor charges, you will likely face the following penalties:

  • No more than one year in jail
  • A fine not exceeding $2,000, or both

If convicted of felony charges, you will likely face the following penalties:

  • A maximum of three years in jail
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000, or both

Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Trespass

What If I Was Peacefully Assembling With Others and Exercising My Right to Free Speech?

Engaging in a protest or exercising your First Amendment rights on someone else's property can introduce complexities into the legal situation. Although the First Amendment ensures freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, it does not grant an absolute right to protest on private property without proper permission. The rights of the property owner to control and manage their property must be considered and balanced with your constitutional rights.

While there are instances where you could be protected when engaging in peaceful protests or expressive activities in public areas like sidewalks, parks, or designated public forums, these protections are not fully extended to private property. Trespassing charges could be brought against you if you enter or remain on private property for your protest without proper permission.

Nevertheless, some exceptions strengthen your argument for exercising First Amendment rights on private property:

  • Certain private properties can be considered public forums, particularly if they are accessible to the general public for specific purposes, like shopping malls or town squares. Any restrictions on expressive activities could be subject to legal examination in these cases.
  • If the property owner or manager has allowed expressive activities or protests on their property in the past, you could argue that you had implied consent to be there for your protest.
  • If you were formally invited onto the property or possessed a license or permit to use the property explicitly to protest, your defense against trespass charges would likely be stronger.

Does the Lack of Knowledge that My Presence is not Allowed on the Property Absolve Me of Criminal Liability?

In trespass cases, whether the lack of willful intent defense applies significantly hinges on each situation's individual details and context. If you can genuinely demonstrate that you had no knowledge or a reasonable way to know that entry onto the property was forbidden, you can argue that you lacked the requisite intent to commit trespass.

Nevertheless, certain forms of trespassing, as outlined in Penal Code 602, require prosecutors to establish that the property had specific warning signs conspicuously placed at precise intervals. Additionally, they should indicate that entry onto the premises is strictly prohibited. The specific situations are sections (h), (j), (l), (p), (r), (u), and (v) of Penal Code 602.

What If I Asked for Permission, But No One Explicitly Said No?

The determination of whether you asked for permission and were not explicitly told that you could not do it can be influenced by the specific subsection of PC 602 involved in your trespass case. For instance, if you are charged with violating Penal Code 602(k), where the focus is on obstructing, interfering with, or damaging a business with willful intent, the fact that you sought permission could not directly impact the willful intent element of the offense.

However, if you are facing charges under PC 602(m), which involves unlawfully occupying property without the owner's consent, the fact that you asked for permission could be more relevant in establishing your state of mind and intent at the time of entry.

Furthermore, for certain forms of trespassing specified in PC 602, the prosecution must prove that the property had specific warning signs set at particular intervals, indicating that entry onto the property was prohibited. In these cases, the absence of these warning signs or explicit notices could be significant in your defense.

Offenses Related to Criminal Trespass

  1. Burglary

Burglary is a crime under Penal Code 459. It involves unlawfully entering a structure with the intent to commit theft, a felony, or another specified crime. Prosecutors must prove the following:

  • You accessed a building, structure, or locked vehicle without the owner's consent or permission. Additionally, you used various methods, like breaking into a car, using false pretenses, or any other unauthorized means.
  • When you gained access to the building or car, you harbored the specific intent to steal, commit a felony, or commit a specified crime, like robbery or assault, when inside the premises.

A burglary conviction does not require actual theft or the successful execution of the intended felony. The offense is deemed complete upon unlawful entry with the requisite intent.

Under California law, burglary is further categorized into two degrees:

First-Degree Burglary

First-degree burglary refers to incidents where the burglary involves a residential dwelling, for example, structures like houses or inhabited dwelling places. First-degree burglary is a felony.

Second-Degree Burglary

Second-degree burglary is committed in structures other than residential dwellings. These include businesses, commercial buildings, or storage facilities. While typically charged as a felony, there are situations where it could be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Note: Auto burglary is also categorized as second-degree burglary.

Penalties for Burglary

First-degree burglary is punishable by:

  • Formal probation.
  • 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.
  • Fines of up to $1,000.

Felony second-degree offenses are punishable by:

Misdemeanor first-degree burglary is punishable by:

  • Summary probation.
  • Up to one year in jail.
  • Fines of up to $10,000.

Felony first-degree burglary is punishable by:

  • Formal probation.
  • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison.
  • Fines of up to $10,000.

Contact a Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group if you or a loved one is facing criminal trespass charges in Anaheim. Our team will work diligently to defend your rights in the case and secure a favorable outcome. Call us today at 714-766-0965 for assistance.