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PC 602: What’s Criminal Trespass in California?

PC 602: What’s Criminal Trespass in California?

California Penal Code (PC) 602 is a California law covering the offense of criminal trespass. Per 602 PC, a person generally commits criminal trespassing when they:

  • Enter (or remain on) another’s property; and
  • Do not have permission or a right to do so.

California’s criminal trespass law is very broad in scope, and the statute outlines dozens of specific scenarios and situations which can led to a trespass charge. However, some of the most common examples follow similar themes, including:

  • Entering another’s property with the intent to cause property damage;
  • Entering another’s property with the intent to obstruct business activities;
  • Entering and occupying another’s property without permission;
  • Refusing to leave private property after being asked by owner, representative, law enforcement, etc.;
  • Entering private property with the intent to injure, collect, or carry away items present on that property;

Elements of Criminal Trespass in California

While PC 602 also contains some unusual forms of prohibited trespassing conduct (i.e. taking soil from another’s land or taking shellfish without permission), there are certain legal elements which the government must prove when bringing criminal trespass charges against a defendant.

The general elements of a criminal trespass charge include:

  1. Willfully entering another’s property;
  2. Having the specific intent to interfere with the owner’s property rights; and
  3. Actual interference with the owner’s property rights (i.e. damaging property, obstructing business, etc.).

By definition, the crime of trespassing requires a person to have acted willfully, meaning they deliberately entered another’s property, not that they intended to break the law.

Additionally, the crime requires proof of specific intent, which means the defendant not only had the intent to perform a specific act, but also had an intent to achieve the specific consequences of the act. For example, a homeless person entering a place of business to escape the rain who inadvertently drives customers away due to his appearance does not have the specific intent to interfere with the business, and would not be considered guilty of criminal trespass).

In two of the most common forms of criminal trespass, the third legal element – actual interference / damage to property rights – requires prosecutors to prove actual interference occurred. As an example, an activist who stands in front of a business which sells leather to hand out pamphlets would not be guilty of trespass if they did not obstruct customers from entering and purchasing products from the business owner. However, if the activist barricaded the entrance so as to prevent patrons from being able to enter the business, it could be argued that actual interference occurred.

California Criminal Trespass Penalties

Depending on the circumstances and the severity of actions allegedly taken, California criminal trespass may be prosecuted as an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony:

  • Infraction - In some situations, a person charged with criminal trespass may only face an infraction, which is punishable by a $75 fine for a first offense, and a $250 fine for a second offense (if it occurs on the same land). A third offense on the same land typically results in misdemeanor charges.
  • Misdemeanor Trespass - In most cases, PC 602 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail, $1,000 in fines, and probation. Some misdemeanor trespass charges, including situation where a person refuses to leave a battered woman's property after being asked by a manager, may carry longer potential sentences of up to 1 year.
  • Felony Trespass - California law distinguishes between standard criminal trespass (PC 602) and aggravated criminal trespass (PC 601). Though both offenses consist of similar conduct – i.e. entering or remaining on another’s property without permission or rights – aggravated criminal trespass involves situations where a person: (1) Makes a credible threat of bodily harm; and (2) Enters the home or workplace of the person they threatened, within 30 days of making the threat, with the intent to carry out the threat. Aggravated criminal trespass is a "wobbler" that may be charged as a misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to 1 year in jail and fines, or a felony, which poses a potential prison sentence of up to 3 years.

Criminal Trespass Defenses

While each and every criminal case is unique, there are a number of defense strategies which may apply to criminal trespass cases. These include arguments that a person:

  • Had a legal right to be on the property;
  • Had the owner’s consent to enter the property;
  • Did not “occupy” the property;
  • Did not actually interfere with or obstruct activities on the property;
  • Had no way of knowing land was privately owned (i.e. land was not fences or enclosed, or did not display signs at required intervals along the property’s boundaries).

In some cases, criminal trespass may be charged in conjunction to another crime, including offenses involving:

  • Vandalism (PC 594)
  • Burglary (PC 459, commercial or residential burglary)
  • Theft crimes (petty, grand, or auto theft)
  • Domestic violence, i.e. PC 646.9 (stalking), PC 422 (criminal threats), etc.

Defenses in these cases will vary depending on the circumstances and allegations involved. In some cases, seeking a negotiated plea deal where a defendant pleads guilty to criminal trespass rather than a more severe charge (i.e. burglary) could be a favorable option. Arguing against certain elements of trespass and / or related charges may also be important for defendants who would potentially face ancillary consequences for being convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude (i.e. a doctor, lawyer, or professional subject to professional rules, a non-citizen, and others).

Have you or someone you love been charged with criminal trespass in San Diego or any of the surrounding communities of Southern California? Premier Criminal Defense is comprised of experienced defense attorneys who are passionate about protecting the rights, freedoms, and futures of clients. Call (619) 304-9190 or contact us online 24/7 to request a FREE and confidential case review.

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