We have all stumbled across “No trespassing” signs from time to time. Property owners have the right to keep third parties off of their property. For example, a storeowner has the right to remove someone from the premises if that person is causing trouble. A homeowner has the right to refuse entry to others. If an individual ignores these warnings, that individual may be liable for criminal trespass. With an experienced criminal defense attorney, it may be possible to fight these charges.
What is criminal trespass?
According to the Texas Penal Code, a person may be convicted of criminal trespass if the person:
- Enters or stays on the property of someone else without permission and
- Had notice that being on the property was forbidden; or
- Had notice to leave the property but did not do so
The state must prove these elements for an offender to be charged with criminal trespass.
What constitutes “notice”?
There are a number of ways an individual may be warned about trespassing.
According to the criminal trespass statute, notice includes:
- Oral or written communications from the owner or someone authorized to act on behalf of the owner;
- A fence or other similar enclosure;
- A sign that indicates entry is not allowed;
- Purple paint parks on trees or posts around the property; or
- The presence of crops grown for human consumption.
One who enters a property in spite of the above types of notice may be found guilty of criminal trespass.
Penalties for criminal trespass
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor charge. Penalties vary depending on the nature of the property.
For example, the offender may be guilty of a class C misdemeanor if the trespass occurred on agricultural property so long as the offender was within 100 feet of the property perimeter or on residential land if the offender was within 100 feet of a protected freshwater zone.
Those convicted of class C misdemeanors will not face any jail time, but they may have to pay a fine of up to $500.
A trespasser may be guilty of a class A misdemeanor if the trespass occurred in a residence or shelter center, on a Superfund site, or in a critical infrastructure facility. The trespass is also a class A misdemeanor if the offender carried a deadly weapon while trespassing.
If convicted of a class A misdemeanor, the offender may spend up to one year in jail and be ordered to pay up to a $4,000 fine.
In other trespassing cases, the individual may be convicted of a class B misdemeanor. If convicted, the offender may spend up to 180 days in jail and be ordered to pay up to a $2,000 fine.
Defenses to criminal trespass
Texas law provides several defenses to trespass charges. For example, if the offender worked for a utility company, this defense may be raised to avoid liability. Emergency workers, such as EMTs and firefighters, may also raise this defense. These individuals must have been acting in the course of their employment to raise this defense.
An attorney will be able to pinpoint any valid defenses in the claim and gather the evidence necessary to support those defenses. Otherwise, an individual arrested for criminal trespass may not be aware of these defenses.
Have you been charged with criminal trespass?
If you have been charged with criminal trespass, you need to speak with an experienced attorney. Brian Eppes and Jeff Hampton at the Hampton Eppes Law Group are former Texas prosecutors experienced in the Texas criminal justice system. To schedule a free consultation, call 817-877-5201 or visit www.hamptonlegalgroup.com.