A property owner has the right to use his or her property in any manner that is not otherwise prohibited by law. Part of this right includes being able to use the property exclusively and preventing other people from entering the property without permission. Trespassing is a crime where someone else enters or stays on the property without consent or permission.
You commit a criminal trespass whenever you enter onto property which you know you do not have the right to enter, or remain on property after learning you do not have the right to be there. Trespassing can occur on both private and public property, and you do not have to receive a verbal warning that the property is off limits. Even if you enter a structure or property with the owner's permission, you can still commit trespassing if the owner later orders you to leave but you choose to remain, for example as a house guest who refuses to leave.
Classification & Penalties
A person convicted of criminal trespass faces a range of penalties. In most criminal trespass situations courts do not impose significant jail penalties, fines, or lengthy probation periods, though the potential penalties differ among states. Trespassing is typically considered a minor crime and is not usually associated with stiff penalties. However, depending on the circumstances of the case and the laws in your state, a trespassing conviction can lead to a significant jail sentence and other penalties.
- Degrees. Many states have laws that differentiate between different types or severities of trespassing. A state might, for instance, have laws that punish both first-degree and second-degree trespassing. First-degree trespass is typically more serious than second-degree, with first degree usually involving entry into a home, a private building, or onto land that is clearly marked as private. Second-degree trespassing is less serious, typically involving entering onto property that isn't clearly fenced off or private, or remaining on a property after being told by the owner to leave.
- Jail. While state laws allow judges the ability to impose a jail sentence for trespassing, convictions that result in jail time are uncommon. The potential jail sentences for most trespassing convictions range from several days to several months in jail. However, some states allow for up to a year or more in jail for the most serious trespassing crimes.
- Time served. It's common for someone caught trespassing to be arrested and placed in jail. If you are later convicted the trespassing charge the court may choose to sentence you to what is known as “time served.” When a court sentences you to time served, it decides to count the time that you have already spent in jail as your punishment. As with a jail sentence, a court can impose a time served sentence in addition to a fine or other penalties.
- Fines. A person convicted of trespassing most often faces a fine as a penalty. Fines can be imposed either separately from or in addition to jail sentences. Trespassing fines vary widely, from a few hundred dollars to as much as $4,000 or more. Like jail sentences, trespassing fines are dependent on state law and the circumstances of the crime, and laws allow courts to impose a range of fines. For example, a conviction for trespassing may result in a fine of as little as $25 or as much as $1,000.
- Court costs. Upon a conviction for trespassing courts will almost always require you to pay court costs. Court costs are designed to reimburse the court or prosecutors for the costs spent during the criminal justice process. Court costs differ between states but are typically at least $100 or more. Court costs are imposed in addition to fines, jail time, or other penalties.
- Probation. Someone convicted of criminal trespassing may also have to serve a period of probation. Probation periods typically last about 12 months, though they can be longer. When you are sentenced to probation you must comply with various probation conditions, such as not breaking any more laws and paying all fines and court costs. If you violate any of these conditions a court can impose additional penalties, such as lengthening the probation period or ordering you to serve time in jail. Probation is typically supervised or unsupervised.
- Supervised probation. A person sentenced to supervised probation must regularly meet with a probation officer and comply with the officer's orders. Supervised probation may also require you to allow the probation officer to search your home, your vehicle, or order you to take random drug tests. Supervised probation is commonly imposed as a sentence in situations where the trespassing charge was more serious or where an offender has a previous criminal record.
- Unsupervised probation. If you are sentenced to unsupervised probation you must still comply with all the probation conditions the court imposes, but do not need to regularly meet with a probation officer or be supervised by one. Unsupervised probation is more common in trespassing cases where the offender does not have previous convictions.
Speaking with an Attorney
Even though trespassing is not usually a serious offense, you still need to speak to a local criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a crime. Anytime you face a criminal charge you have specific rights guaranteed to you under the law. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney can give you advice on how to protect these rights. A local defense attorney will also have experience with local prosecutors and judges and can give you advice based both on the facts of your case and on his or her experience with the local criminal justice system. Being convicted of trespassing can result not only in fines, jail or probation, but will also saddle you with a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. You need to speak to an attorney as soon as possible if you're ever arrested for or charged with trespassing.