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California Trespassing Laws

Posted in Criminal Defense on May 26, 2019

Trespassing is the crime of entering another person’s property without the person’s permission, or the right to do so. In California, trespassing laws define the specifics of the crime and the punishments that can come with breaking trespassing laws. The state’s laws describe dozens of trespassing situations. Some are common while others are more unusual.

California Penal Code on Trespassing (PC602)

Understanding what counts as trespassing is important if you wish to stay out of trouble on someone else’s land in California. Penal Code Section 602 lists multiple examples of what the law sees as criminal trespassing. It states that anyone who commits one of the listed actions willfully is guilty of a misdemeanor.

  • Cutting down or destroying wood
  • Digging or stealing land or produce
  • Maliciously damaging or removing signage
  • Entering a farm owned by another person where signs are present that forbid trespass
  • Destroying or removing a fence or gate
  • Building a fire without written permission from the landowner
  • Entering someone else’s land with the intent to damage or steal property
  • Refusing to leave property belonging by someone else
  • Entering land designed as closed to entry

Many other actions could fulfill the definition of criminal misdemeanor in the eyes of California law. In general, if you do not have the owner’s permission to enter or remain on a property, you are trespassing by doing so.

Penalty for Trespassing in California

Most trespassing crimes are misdemeanors in California, although more minor offenses may be infractions. Someone convicted of criminal trespassing in California can face up to $1,000 in fines, jail time of not more than six months, or both. Refusing to leave the property after a peace officer has requested the defendant do so could lead to more severe consequences. The penalties remain the same for a second or subsequent trespassing offense.

According to California law, knowingly entering a neonatal unit or maternity ward without lawful reason could result in up to one year in jail and $2,000 in fines. An aggravated trespassing crime, in which one trespasser threatens physical violence and then enters the property without permission, could be a felony charge. This could lead to 16 months to three years in jail and higher fines.

Types of Trespassing

It is possible to trespass on another’s property in different ways. The type of trespassing action can determine the severity of the criminal charges. Wrongfully entering the land is one type of trespassing. Entering someone else’s land means crossing over the boundary of that person’s owned property without the owner’s permission. This boundary extends into air space. Intending to enter is another type of trespassing. Committing intentional trespass is different than negligent trespass. However, someone can be guilty of trespassing even if he or she did not realize the action was a trespass.

Entering without permission is a type of trespassing in which the trespasser enters and remains on the land without license or permission to do so. Exceeding the scope of a commercial license is an example of entering without permission. The final type of trespassing is entering without privilege. Even without the landowner’s consent, certain people may have the privilege to enter, such as out of necessity to prevent serious harm to someone. Failing to have the privilege to enter, however, is trespassing.

Legal Defenses for Trespassing

It is possible to offer a defense to a trespassing charge in California. Common defenses include proving that the defendant had the right to be on the property, had the owner’s consent or permission, that the defendant did not occupy the property, and that the property did not bear any signs or fences to warn of trespassing. Work with a Riverside criminal defense lawyer for a personalized defense strategy if you are facing trespassing charges in California.