If you are charged with criminal trespassing, it could be a serious offense. Most state laws have different degrees of trespassing – first, second and third, with first being the most serious. Charges normally fall into the category of misdemeanors and are punishable by fines and possibly, jail time. Consequences may be more severe if you've damaged the property you were trespassing on or if you committed another crime in addition to the trespass.
What Is Criminal Trespass?
If you intentionally enter someone else's property without permission, you may be committing a criminal trespass. The key element here is intent. While state laws define the offense somewhat differently, you must know that you're somewhere you're not supposed to be. Accidentally wandering onto someone else's land while hiking, for instance, is not usually considered criminal trespassing. Some states require landowners to put up warning signs to show the property is off limits before anyone can be convicted of a crime.
What Are the Classifications of Criminal Trespass?
Criminal trespass includes a wide variety of activities from ignoring a No Trespass sign in order to take a shortcut over someone's land to jumping a fence to steal someone's property. As such, many states classify criminal trespass according to the circumstances and seriousness of the crime. First-degree trespass, for example, is often the most serious type of misdemeanor. Deliberately breaking into someone's home or business premises is likely to fall into this category.
Second-degree trespass is normally a petty misdemeanor. This usually occurs when you deliberately ignore warning signs or fail to leave the property when the owner or a law enforcement official asks you to. Some states set out trespassing offenses into three, or even four, degrees of seriousness with different penalties for each level of the crime.
What Are the Penalties for Criminal Trespassing?
Penalties vary by state and the classification of the misdemeanor. In general though, you're looking at fines and a few weeks or months of jail time. For example, first-degree trespass in North Carolina is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 60 days in jail; for second-degree trespassing, the fine is $200 and up to 20 days in jail. Arizona has three classifications of criminal trespass, punishable by up to six months in jail, four months in jail and 30 days in jail, respectively. The rules and punishments differ widely by jurisdiction, so consult an attorney in your state to understand what you may be facing if charged with criminal trespassing.
Is Criminal Trespass Ever a Felony?
Trespassing charges normally fall into the category of misdemeanors, but more serious acts of trespassing could be a felony in some circumstances. Normally, a state's criminal laws provide stiffer sentences for breaking into someone's home than for other types of structures. In Colorado, for example, entering into a home with the intention of committing a crime is a felony, punishable by jail time and restitution, which means you have to compensate the property owner for any loss. In Arizona, if you break into someone's home, a critical public services facility like a power station or into a religious building, you're looking at a felony charge punishable by anywhere from six months to two and half years in prison.
Read More: Difference Between Trespassing & Criminal Trespassing
What Are Other Consequences of Trespassing?
Besides having a criminal conviction on your record, the property owner can sue you for money damages in civil court. This is more likely to happen if you hurt someone or damage property while you are trespassing. The property owner may also apply for a restraining order if you have a regular habit of trespassing on his property.
The consequences of criminal trespass vary by state and may include fines or jail time.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.