"Aggravated trespass" describes aggravating circumstances that make prosecutors pursue felony charges instead of misdemeanor trespass charges. These circumstances are outlined under Penal Code 601. Convictions for this crime result in significant penalties. These include a possible prison sentence and substantial fines. Hiring an experienced attorney can improve your likelihood of obtaining a positive legal result. Our team at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is ready to help. We have detailed what you need to know about aggravated trespass, including the definition under California law, the defenses you can raise, and the likely penalties upon conviction.
Aggravated Trespass Under California Law
The act of trespassing involves unauthorized entry or remaining on another individual's property without their consent or legal entitlement. Penal Code Section 602 provides a precise definition of trespass.
According to the statute, trespass is entering or staying on another person's property without authorization and with the intention to disrupt, harm, or obstruct any legitimate enterprise or activity being carried out on the premises. Trespass can also occur if a person enters or remains on someone else's property with the intention of refusing to leave after being asked to do so by the property owner or someone acting on the owner's behalf.
Trespassing is a misdemeanor violation.
Under specific conditions, you could face a more severe trespass charge. You could face PC 601 violation charges, referred to as aggravated trespass. Aggravated trespass is a felony violation.
A felony trespass occurs when someone enters another person’s workplace or residence without permission and threatens to injure another person physically.
Elements of the Crime
Prosecutors must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction under this section. Only then can a jury or a judge find you guilty. They must establish that:
- You issued a credible threat to cause serious physical harm to someone's physical well-being.
- You intended to create a rational sense of apprehension in the other person about their safety or that of their immediate family, and either:
- You illegally entered the victim's dwelling within 30 days of making the threat, intending to fulfill the threat, and without a valid reason, OR
- You entered the workplace of the threatened individual unlawfully within 30 days of issuing the threat, with the knowledge that it was their place of work, and attempted to find and harm them without a legitimate reason.
Note: Unlike trespass described under PC 602, trespass under PC 601 does not require prosecutors to prove you acted willfully to be found guilty of the crime. Additionally, you do not violate PC 601 when you enter your workplace, residence, or real property.
- Credible Threat
A threat is credible if the statement or action would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their family. A threat meets the credible threshold if it is serious enough to cause a reasonable fear of harm and can be carried out. A credible threat is not an idle or vague statement but rather a specific and conceivable indication that injury could be inflicted.
Communication of a credible threat can be accomplished through a variety of methods. These include oral declarations, written messages, or electronic correspondence. Additionally, it could be implied through a pattern of behavior or a combination of utterances and conduct. This expansive description in criminal law guarantees that any conduct that could be construed as a threat is regarded with gravity and analyzed within the context of the situation.
- Serious Bodily Injury
Serious bodily injury" is any injury that:
- Results in a substantial risk of death
- Causes severe permanent disfigurement, or
- Results in protracted loss or impairment of any body part or organ
The harm inflicted must be significant enough to necessitate medical treatment. It includes broken bones, internal injuries, and cuts requiring sutures or burns. It also incorporates concussions, serious disfigurement, and impairment or loss of function of a body organ or member.
- Reasonable Fear
The legal term "reasonable fear" denotes a legitimate and rational concern of potential harm or danger to yourself or someone else. Reasonable fear is frequently employed in criminal law, particularly in cases related to threats, assault, and self-defense.
To establish reasonable fear, the threatened party must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that harm or danger is imminent based on the surrounding circumstances. This means the person's fear must be based on facts, not subjective beliefs or assumptions.
Determining reasonable fear is evaluated case by case and depends on each case's specific facts and circumstances. In assessing the intent element, a judge or jury could consider various factors, including:
- Your verbal messages, conduct, presence of any third party,
- The victim's reaction to the threat,
- Your relationship with the victim, and
- Any prior encounters between you and the victim
The court evaluates all relevant circumstances to ascertain whether your conduct was intended to induce reasonable fear in the victim.
- Immediate Family Members
Immediate family members include:
- A person's spouse, registered domestic partner, children, stepchildren,
- Siblings and parents,
- Grandparents and grandchildren
Immediate family members could include a person's in-laws, stepparents, step-siblings, or anyone living in the same household.
Fighting Aggravated Trespass Charges
Your defense attorney could assert any of the following defenses to challenge the prosecution’s case against you. The defenses target the elements that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Attorneys will choose a defense strategy that could create reasonable doubt. Thus, it is possible to have the charges reduced if you do not secure a dismissal of your criminal charges.
Here is a look at the ideal defenses in aggravated trespass cases.
- No Credible Threat
You can argue that the threat you made was not credible. Thus, the victim did not have a rational apprehension for their safety or that of their immediate family due to your actions. You bear the burden of proving that the threat was not credible. Hence, you need to produce proof that the victim had no justifiable reason to consider the threat legitimate. Additionally, you must establish that you had no intention of executing the threat.
You could present specific evidence to support your defense, such as:
- Testimony from witnesses who were present when the statement was made and can attest to the context and intention behind it.
- Evidence of your state of mind when you made the statement. This could include testimony from a mental health expert or proof of a history of mental illness.
- Proof indicating that you lacked the resources or capability to execute the threat. This evidence includes testimony from a weapons expert or physical evidence showing that you did not have access to a weapon.
- Evidence demonstrating that the victim was aware or should have been aware that the threat lacked credibility, for example, your previous statements or behavior that would cause a logical person to doubt the legitimacy of the threat.
- Evidence that you took immediate steps to retract or disavow the threat or took steps to prevent it from being carried out, for example, notifying law enforcement or seeking professional help.
The presiding judge or jury will determine the threat's authenticity by evaluating all the circumstances surrounding the situation. This includes the context of the threat, your intention, and any other pertinent factor.
- No Intention to Cause Fear
You could also contend that you had no intention of making the victim feel afraid for their safety or the safety of their immediate family members. The ideal approach to using this defense strategy is to show the courts that your statements had a different purpose and were not meant to threaten the alleged victim. Some of the reasons include the following:
- An attempt to resolve a dispute or express an opinion
- Making statements while intoxicated or following a highly stressful event in the recent past, for example, job loss, foreclosure, divorce, or loss of child custody
In most cases, defense attorneys rely on testimony from witnesses familiar with the situation or experts who could address your mental state during the incident.
- No Intent to Carryout the Threat
While asserting that you had no intent to carry out the threat, you will argue that you did not intend to follow through with the threat you made.
Suppose someone is charged with threatening to harm another person and claims the defense of no intention to carry out the threat. In that case, they are essentially stating that their words were empty threats or that they had no intention of actually causing the harm they threatened.
Evidence that supports this defense strategy includes the following:
- Eyewitness account
- Surveillance footage
- Evidence of prior statements or behavior contradicting the idea that you intended to carry out the threat, or
- Evidence that you lacked the means or opportunity to carry out the threatened harm — Your attorney could show the jury you lacked the ability or resources to carry out the threatened harm. Some examples include the following:
- Lack of physical ability or means — If the threat involved physical harm or violence, you could argue that you did not have the physical ability or means to carry out the threatened harm. For example, if you threatened to harm someone physically but had a disability, that would prevent you from carrying out the threat. This disability could be argued as evidence of your incapability or lack of means to do so.
- Lack of access to weapons or other tools — You could argue that you could not access the firearms or other devices mentioned in the threat, rendering it impossible to carry out the threat.
- Lack of opportunity — Some threats specify the time or place. You are only guilty if you can access the location within the specified time. If you could not, you lacked the opportunity to carry out the threat.
For example, if you threatened to harm someone at their workplace but had no access or way to get there, this could be evidence of a lack of opportunity.
- No Knowledge of Your Accuser’s Residence or Workplace
When threatening or entering the premises, you could not have known about the victim's home or workplace. The prosecution must prove you knew the victim's home or workplace to establish your guilt. Therefore, if you can show that they did not know the victim's residence or workplace, you could use this as a defense against the PC 602 violation charges.
Some evidence that could support this defense includes:
- Documentation or witness statements that show the defendant lacked access to the victim's personal information could support this defense or
- Other evidence that could indicate a lack of knowledge about the victim's residence or workplace includes the absence of any prior contact, communication with the alleged victim, or familiarity with the area.
Penalties for a Penal Code 601 Violation
Felony trespass, per PC 601(d), is punishable by:
- Imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year,
- A maximum fine of $2,000, or
- By both that fine and imprisonment.
Further Consequences of a Conviction
When facing prosecution for felony trespass, you risk facing additional penalties. A conviction will adversely impact your immigration status if you are a non-citizen. For citizens, guilty verdicts can also affect your gun rights.
Felony trespass can be considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). A crime involving moral turpitude is typically characterized as a criminal offense encompassing deceit, fraud, or an intention to cause harm to an individual or property. Felony trespass involves threatening to cause harm after entering or remaining on someone else's property. Therefore, it is considered a CIMT.
For non-citizens, a conviction for felony trespass can have serious immigration consequences. These include:
- Exclusion from admission to the United States, and
- The denial of naturalization or other immigration benefits.
Impact on Gun Rights
The Second Amendment protects individuals' right to keep and bear arms. The right to possess firearms is not without limitations.
Penal Code 29800 bars individuals in the following categories from purchasing, owning, or possessing a gun:
- Convicted felons
- Individuals with certain misdemeanor convictions, including domestic violence offenses
- People who have an addiction to any narcotic drug
- Individuals deemed by a court to be dangerous to themselves or others because of a mental disorder or illness.
- Individuals with multiple convictions under PC 417, which prohibits brandishing deadly weapons
- Individuals subjected to conservatorship owing to a mental disease or sickness.
- Individuals who are the subject of a restraining or protection order imposed under particular situations, for example, domestic violence or harassment
- Minors, that is, individuals under 18 years
Since trespass under PC 601 is a felony, you will lose your gun rights after conviction. PC 29800 makes it a felony offense for a prohibited person to own, possess, or purchase a firearm. A violation of PC 29800 is punishable by:
- A sentence to a federal correctional facility for more than 30 days, or
- A fine of more than $1,000, or both.
Expungement of a Felony Trespass Conviction
You could have your aggravated trespass conviction expunged under certain circumstances. To qualify for expungement:
- You must have completed probation or
- You should have been discharged from custody, and
- You should not be facing any current charges, serving a sentence, or on probation for any other offense.
However, expungement does not completely erase the conviction from your criminal record. Instead, it changes the record to show a dismissal of the charge after the completion of probation or discharge from custody. The conviction could still be visible to certain government agencies and employers.
Seek the advice of a criminal defense lawyer to assess whether you qualify for expungement. They will also help you navigate the expungement process.
Crimes Related to PC 601
Trespass, per Penal Code section 602, refers to the act of entering or staying on someone else's property without their permission or legal right. This act can result in felony or misdemeanor charges or non-criminal infraction penalties.
In a trespass case under PC 602, prosecutors must prove that:
- You willfully entered or remained on someone else's property without permission, and
- You either had actual knowledge or should have known that entering or remaining on the property was prohibited.
It is also necessary for the prosecution to establish that you lacked a legitimate reason for being on the property or staying there.
Penalties for a Penal Code 602 Violation
The consequences depend on the violation prosecutors decide to pursue.
You will face infraction penalties if:
- You intentionally entered someone else's property without authorization, and
- The property was either surrounded by a fence or had noticeable signage that indicated trespassing was prohibited.
You will be fined $75 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense on the same property.
If prosecutors pursue misdemeanor violation charges, a conviction will result in the following penalties:
- A maximum of six months in county jail and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000
Felony charges will be pursued under Penal Code 601.
Note: You could be presented with a plea bargain offer requiring you to plead guilty to trespass under PC 602 to avoid a conviction for aggravated trespass. The outcome would be influenced by the particular details of the case and the prosecutor's judgment.
- Criminal Threats
Penal Code 422 makes it a crime to threaten to kill or cause great bodily injury to another person, with the intent that the person is placed in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family. The offense is usually charged as a felony.
The prosecution can only prove your guilt if they establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You made a deliberate threat to harm the alleged victim by causing significant physical injury or killing them
- You made the threat orally, in writing, or by an electronic communication device
- The threat was unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific
- The threat put the alleged victim in sustained fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family, and
- The alleged victim's fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
The prosecutor does not need to prove you intended to carry out the threat. He/she only needs to show that you made the threat willfully and that it would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety.
It is possible to violate Penal Code 422 without addressing the person you are threatening. This is because the law covers threats to a person or a group. The crucial factor is that the threat must be of such a nature that it induces a person or a group to experience prolonged apprehension for their safety or welfare. The fear must also be reasonable under the circumstances. Hence, even if you do not directly communicate the threat to the person you are targeting, you could still face charges under PC 422 as long as the remaining elements of the offense are satisfied.
Penalties Under Penal Code 422
Issuing criminal threats is a wobbler offense. This means you will face misdemeanor or felony penalties for the crime. If convicted of a misdemeanor violation, a conviction will result in the following sentences:
- A maximum of one year in county jail and
- Up to $1,000 in fines.
Felony convictions, on the other hand, are punishable by:
- A maximum of three years in state prison and
- Up to $10,000 in fines
If you make multiple threats on different occasions or against different people, you could face separate charges and penalties for each threat you communicate.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are facing aggravated trespass charges, seeking legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. With the potential for severe consequences, including a criminal record and even deportation for non-citizens, the stakes are high. A lawyer can evaluate the prosecution's case's strength, detect possible defenses, and strive to arrange a plea bargain or seek an acquittal in court. Do not risk your future by facing these charges alone. Contact Chula Vista Criminal Attorney today at 619-877-6894. Let us protect your rights and get the best possible outcome for your case.