Criminal Law

What Is Criminal Trespassing?

By Jessica Gillespie, Legal Researcher and Editor
Criminal trespass occurs when someone enters or stays on someone else’s property without authorization.

While laws vary a bit by state, criminal trespass is typically the act of intentionally entering or staying on another person’s property without permission.

An essential element of criminal trespass is knowledge. In order to be convicted of the normal version of the crime, you must either:

  • know that you’re going onto someone else’s property without having permission to be there, or
  • remain on the property after discovering that you don’t have the right to be there.

Many states’ laws don’t allow for a trespassing conviction unless there was some kind of notice that the trespasser wasn’t permitted to be on the property. A property owner can normally provide the required notice with an oral request that the trespasser leave the premises, but a “no trespassing” sign, a fence, or a locked gate can also be enough to indicate that the property is off limits.

Criminal trespass is related to burglary but is usually a significantly less serious offense. In many cases, criminal trespass is either an infraction or a misdemeanor, but in some states it can also be a felony. Generally, criminal laws provide harsher penalties for entering someone else’s home without permission (which can also constitute burglary) than for most other types of trespass.

For more information on trespassing, including civil liability, read here. To learn about the criminal trespass laws and penalties in your state, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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