Trespassing is a crime that involves entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so. It can also include entering the land with the intent to interfere with or damage property rights or business operations or refusing to leave after being asked to do so. Trespassing is prohibited under California Penal Code 602, which covers many trespassing scenarios and penalties.
In California, trespassing can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor crime, depending on your intent. The penalties can range from fines to prison sentences. Trespassing can also result in civil liability for any damages caused by the trespass.
If you are accused of a PC 602 violation, you should seek legal counsel immediately. Trespassing is a severe offense that can have lasting consequences for your reputation and future. You may have several legal defenses, such as consent, necessity, lack of intent, or mistake of fact.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have extensive experience handling trespassing cases. We can help you fight your charges and protect your rights. We will review the facts of your case, investigate the evidence, negotiate with the prosecution, and represent you in court if necessary. Also, our attorneys will work hard to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.
How does California law define “trespass”?
Trespassing is a crime that involves entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so. It can also include entering land intending to interfere with or damage property rights or business operations or refusing to leave after being asked to do so.
California Penal Code 602 defines trespassing as a broad category of offenses that covers several different activities, such as:
- Destroying, injuring, or cutting down wood or timber standing or growing on someone else's land.
- Taking soil, dirt, stone, or other materials from cultivated or enclosed land.
- Starting fires on someone else’s land without permission.
- Entering any land owned by someone else, in which oysters or other shellfish are reared.
- Entering and occupying real property or structures without the owner's consent.
- Driving any vehicle into real property belonging to or lawfully occupied by someone else.
- Refusing to leave someone else’s real property, land, or structures belonging to or lawfully occupied by them after being asked to leave.
- Entering any land that is cultivated or fenced to injure any property or property rights.
- Entering property where you see signs prohibiting trespass are erected at intervals along all external boundaries and roads and pathways leading to the land.
- Entering any lands to take, injure, gather, or carry away any plant material without written permission from the owner.
The prosecution must show in court that you acted willfully. This means that your acts are intentional, not accidental or mistaken. However, it does not mean you must intend to break the law or harm anyone. For example, if you enter a private property thinking that it is public land, you may still be guilty of trespassing if you acted willfully in entering the property.
Legal Definition of Penal Code 601 Aggravated Trespassing
Aggravated trespassing is a more serious form of trespassing involving threatening someone with physical harm and entering their property without permission. California Penal Code 601 defines aggravated trespassing as follows:
- You threaten to cause serious bodily injury to another person, intending to place them in fear for their safety or that of their immediate family.
- And within 30 days of making a credible threat, you unlawfully enter the residence or workplace of the person you threatened without a lawful purpose.
- And intending to perform the threat against the person you threatened.
- The threat causes a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family.
- That threat is made verbally, in writing, or via electronic communication.
- You made a credible threat directly or indirectly to the person threatened.
A serious bodily injury involves the risk of death, unconsciousness, disfigurement, or the protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily organ. A residence includes any dwelling, whether occupied or not, and any adjacent structures. A "workplace" is where the person threatened performs services or holds a license related to those services.
What are the penalties for a Penal Code 602 violation?
Possible penalties for trespassing in California depend on the type and severity of your offense. Trespassing is a wobbler offense. So, the crime could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution can charge you with trespassing if they have enough evidence to prove that you acted willfully and unlawfully in entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so.
The prosecution can also charge you with aggravated trespassing if they have enough evidence to prove that you made a credible threat of physical harm to someone and then entered their property intending to execute the threat.
Misdemeanor trespass is a common type of trespassing that involves entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so, intending to interfere with their rights or business operations, or refusing to leave after being asked to do so.
The possible sentencing for misdemeanor trespass depends on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Generally, a conviction for misdemeanor trespass can result in the following penalties:
- Up to six months in county jail and.
- A fine not exceeding $1,000.
However, some cases of misdemeanor trespass may be eligible for alternative sentences, such as informal probation, work release, or house arrest. Additionally, some cases of misdemeanor trespass may be reduced to an infraction, which only carries a fine not exceeding $100.
Trespass as an infraction
Trespass as an infraction is the least serious type of trespassing that involves entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so and without causing any damage or harm. Trespass as an infraction usually occurs when a fence encloses the property or has “no trespassing” signs posted.
The penalties for trespass as an infraction are:
- A fine not exceeding $75 for a first-time offender.
- A fine of not more than $250 for a repeat offender.
Trespass as an infraction does not result in jail time or a criminal record. However, some cases of trespass as an infraction may be elevated to a misdemeanor or a felony if the defendant causes any damage or harm to the property or the owner.
Aggravated (felony) Trespass (Penal Code 601)
Aggravated trespass is a serious type of trespassing that involves making a credible threat to injure someone physically and then entering their home or workplace without permission or a right to do so, intending to carry out the threat.
The possible penalties for aggravated trespass depend on whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor can decide based on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. A conviction could result in the following penalties:
- If charged as a misdemeanor, you could serve up to one year in county jail and a fine not exceeding $2,000.
- If charged as a felony, you could spend at most three years in county jail and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Aggravated trespass can also result in civil liability for any damages you cause to the victim or their property.
Common defenses to Penal Code 602 violation charges
You Had The Right To Be On The Property
You are guilty of trespass if you enter or remain on someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so. However, you can challenge your PC 602 charges by showing that you had a valid reason to be on the property, such as:
- You had the consent of the owner or someone with authority to give permission.
- You had the legal authority to be on the property, such as a warrant, court order, or public duty.
- You had a claim of right to be on the property, such as a lease, easement, or ownership interest.
- You were abating a nuisance on the property, such as removing a dangerous or harmful condition.
- You were acting in an emergency or necessity to protect yourself or others from harm.
If you can prove any of these defenses, you can avoid a conviction for trespass. However, you may still be liable for any damages you caused to the property or the owner.
No willful act
The judge could not sentence you if you did not act willfully when you entered or remained on the property. “Willful” means that you did something on purpose or with specific intent. Simply wandering onto someone’s property by mistake or accident is insufficient to show willfulness. However, you may have shown willful conduct if you ignored a “No Trespassing” sign, scaled a fence, or broke a lock.
Your lawyer can build a defense by showing that you did not know or had reason to know that you were on someone else’s property or that you did not intend to interfere with the owner’s rights or interests. For example, if you were lost and entered a property to ask for directions or were following a public trail that crossed private land, you may have a valid defense of no willful act.
No fence or signs
Another defense to trespass charges is that the property was not enclosed by a fence or marked with “No Trespassing” signs. In California, trespassing under Penal Code Section 602.8 PC is an infraction that only applies to fenced or posted land. You might not be guilty of this offense if the land was open and unmarked.
However, you may still be charged with other forms of trespassing under Penal Code Section 602 PC, which do not require a fence or signs. These include entering or remaining on the property with the intent to interfere with the owner’s rights, damage the property, or commit another crime. To avoid these charges, you must show that you did not have any such intent or purpose when you entered or remained on the property.
You Did not Occupy The Property
Occupying means living on or using the property as your own. For example, setting up a tent, building a fence, or planting crops on someone else’s land would be considered occupying. Simply walking through or driving through the property is not occupying.
This defense applies to a specific type of trespassing under Penal Code Section 602(m) PC, which makes it a crime to occupy someone else’s property without permission. If you are charged with this offense, you can argue that you did not occupy the property but only entered or remained on it for a short time or for for a lawful purpose. For example, if you were hiking on a public trail that crossed private land or delivering a package to a neighbor’s house, you may have a valid defense of not occupying the property.
You Had Consent To Be On The Property
Consent means that the owner or someone with authority permitted you to enter or remain on the property. Consent can be expressed or implied. Words, such as an invitation or a sign, give express consent. Implied consent is given by actions, such as leaving the door open or having a public event.
If you are charged with trespassing, your lawyer can use this defense to fight your charges by showing evidence that you had consent to be on the property. For example, your lawyer can present witnesses who heard or saw the owner give you permission or documents that show you had a valid reason to be there, such as a lease, a contract, or a ticket. Your lawyer can also argue that the owner’s conduct implied consent, such as having a business open to the public or having a social relationship with you.
You Did not Obstruct Or Interfere With Activities On The Property
A sixth defense to trespass charges is that you didn’t obstruct or interfere with activities on the property. This defense applies to a specific type of trespassing under Penal Code Section 602(k) PC, which makes it a crime to enter someone else’s property intending to interfere with the business activities that are conducted there. If you are charged with this offense, you can argue that you didn’t obstruct or interfere with anything on the property but only entered or remained on it for a lawful purpose or without causing harm.
For example, imagine you are a journalist who wants to interview a politician at his office. You enter the office building and wait for the politician to arrive in the lobby. You won’t disturb anyone or prevent anyone from doing their work. However, the security guard notices you and asks you to leave. You refuse and say that you have a right to be there. The security guard calls the police and accuses you of trespassing. In this case, you may have a valid defense of not obstructing or interfering with activities on the property. You can show that you had a legitimate reason to be there, didn’t intend to disrupt anyone, and did not cause any damage or harm.
Related offenses to trespassing
Burglary, Penal Code 459
You commit burglary when you enter a structure (such as a house, store, car, or tent) with the intent to commit theft or a felony once inside. You can be charged with burglary even if you do not steal anything or complete the felony. The critical element is your intent at the time of entry.
Burglary is split into two degrees: first- and second-degree. First-degree burglary involves entering a residential structure, such as someone’s home or apartment. A second-degree burglary occurs when you enter any other type of structure, such as a business or a vehicle.
First-degree burglary is charged as a felony and is punishable by a prison term not exceeding six years. The prosecution could charge the second-degree burglary as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and your criminal history. If charged as a felony, it can result in at most three years in county jail. If charged as a misdemeanor, it can result in a one-year jail term.
Vandalism, California PC 594
Penal Code Section 594 PC defines vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying, or defacing someone else’s property. Vandalism can include breaking windows, slashing tires, spray-painting graffiti, or keying cars. The property can be real or personal and doesn’t have to belong to someone else. You can also be charged with vandalism for damaging your property if you intend to defraud or injure someone else.
Vandalism can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the damage caused and your prior criminal record. If the damage value is below $400, vandalism is considered a misdemeanor. Possible punishment is not more than one year in county jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
If the damage value exceeds $400, vandalism can be a felony or a misdemeanor. The court could sentence you to at most three years in county jail and a fine of at most $10,000. If the damage is $10,000 or more in value, you face a felony charge. If found guilty, your penalty could be not more than one year in county jail and a fine not exceeding $50,000.
Arson, Penal Code 451
You commit arson under PC 451 when you willfully and maliciously set fire to, burn, or cause any structure, forest land, or property to be burned. You can also be guilty of arson if you aid, counsel, or procure the burning of any structure, forest land, or property.
Arson is a serious crime that can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and restitution. The severity of the punishment depends on the type of property burned, the damage caused, and whether anyone was injured or killed by the fire.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Trespassing Laws
The following are questions that lawyers commonly receive from defendants:
What if I was protesting or exercising my First Amendment rights?
Protesting or exercising your first amendment right does not give you a right to trespass on private property. If you interfere with a business on the physical premises, you may be charged with trespassing under California PC Section 602 PC.
If charged, you can face a misdemeanor conviction, up to six months in jail, and a fine not exceeding $1,000. However, some defenses explained above may be available to you. You should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you face trespassing charges.
What if I asked for permission but no one said I could not?
To avoid trespassing, more than asking for permission is needed. You need to have the consent of the owner or someone with authority to grant you access to the property. If no one told you you could not enter but did not receive explicit permission, you might still be trespassing. The owner or the person in charge of the property has the right to refuse or revoke your authorization at any time. You may be charged with trespassing if you do not leave when asked.
What if I did not know I could not be there?
Ignorance is not a valid defense for trespassing. You are expected to know and respect the boundaries of private property. If the property is marked with signs, fences, or other indicators that it is off-limits, you have no excuse for entering or remaining on it.
Even if the property is not marked, you may still be trespassing if you enter or remain on it without a lawful purpose or a reasonable belief that you have permission. You should always check before entering someone else’s property and leave as soon as possible if you are not welcome.
Find a Reputable Criminal Defense Near Me
If you are accused of trespassing under Penal Code 602, you need a reputable criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights and fight for your best interests. A skilled lawyer can help you challenge the evidence against you, raise possible defenses, and negotiate a favorable plea deal or dismissal.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have reputable lawyers with extensive experience handling trespassing cases. We know how to analyze the facts of your case, identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and present a strong defense on your behalf. Call us at 619-877-6894 for a free consultation. We will review your case and explain your legal options.