Properties reflect an individual's overall way of living; it is a significant factor in weighing the social hierarchy. That is why people tend to value them with utmost pride and vigor. To disrespect that sanctity is a severe offense that can lead to extreme situations (i.e., violence resulting in serious injuries, if not death). The most common form of desecrating a private property is through trespassing. Trespassing is one of the most common offenses committed globally for various reasons, some severe while some are less harmful. In the states of California, there are a variety of conditions that encompasses trespassing. These can be found under California Penal Code 602 PC.
PC 602 generally defines trespassing as a crime committed by entering or staying on other people's property without the consent of the owner/s. If proven guilty, a person can be charged with either felony, misdemeanor, or infraction—all on the prosecutor's discretion. Although there are rare situational occurrences when entering.
There is a plethora of ways trespassing is committed; the most common being:
- Forcefully entering a property against the will of the owner with the intent to interfere with the businesses inside the respective property,
- Entering a property anonymously unbeknownst to the owner especially with malicious intent,
- Squatting or illegally settling on private property, or
- Staying on the property after being forced to leave by the owner.
All these are usually intended to harm the people who own/occupy the property in one way or another. Though to be charged as guilty, the perpetrators must be proven to have done the act willfully. After all, it is only truly trespassing if the offender knowingly entered the area with specific intent. But that does mean the intention has to be to break the law; it means that one purposefully intended to perform the act. Malicious intent can range from "harmless" pranking to serious crimes like assault and robbery. All these can be dealt with by the umbrella of trespassing.
Punishments for Trespassing
Trespassing can be considered as a "wobblers" offense. A wobbler is usually a misdemeanor that is charged either more or less severe by the prosecutor.
As most trespassing cases are charged with a misdemeanor, the punishments include up to six (6) months to a year of jail time and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) plus probation.
But as some less severe cases are considered infractions i.e., the area is fenced with a "no trespassing" sign. Punishment for this is a seventy-five dollar ($75) fine for a first offender and a two hundred fifty dollar ($250) fine for a second offend on the same property. However, a third offense will be charged as a misdemeanor.
Lastly, when trespassing is intensified into a felony (aggravated trespass), one can face a sentence of sixteen (16) months to three (3) years worth of jail time or felony probation and a fine reflective of the crime.
Fortunately, there are several legal defenses that a criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf to reduce or dismiss your California trespass charges. Some of these are:
- Rights to be inside the property - when a person is lawfully on the property despite what the owner claims. An example of this is when one had a valid and rightful claim to be inside the property (i.e., court orders).
- Consent to be inside the property - when a person was permitted initially to stay on the property during the supposed trespassing duration.
- Unintentional trespassing - when a person only entered an area without knowing it is private property. One can also argue that there were no signages or fences on the area, so it would be impossible to know that it was private.
Other Related Offenses
There are other offenses, some more or less severe than trespassing.
- Theft, burglary, and robbery - trespassing to steal inside the property.
- Vandalism - trespassing with the malicious intent of intentionally destroying or damaging parts of the property
- Grave threats (see Aggravated Trespass) - when a person who gave threats of harming the occupants of the property trespassed to enact harm towards them.
- Assault - physically harming the occupants inside the property.
If you are facing these kinds of charges in California is highly recommended to seek help from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible
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