Remaining too long on a person's property, making threats while on someone's property, or breaking an entering are all examples of criminal trespass. Unfortunately, the law in Pennsylvania is broad, and sometimes, criminal charges may arise out of a misunderstanding between two parties.
Criminal Trespass Charges in Pennsylvania
When a person faces trespass charges, they will be classified under one of three categories. Their type of offense will depend on what type of trespasser they are. Pennsylvania law classifies trespassing charges under three different categories.
Trespassing Into a Building
Trespassing itself is defined under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3503 as when a person, while knowing they are not privileged to do so:
- Enters, or gains entry by subterfuge, or surreptitiously remains in a building or occupied structure
- Breaks into any building or occupied structure
Entering, gaining entry, or remaining in a building is considered a third-degree felony. Breaking into a building or other structure is a second-degree felony.
A defiant trespasser is a trespasser who remains after they have been given notice against doing so by one of the following:
- Verbal notification from anyone on the premises
- Communication to leave the premises by a law enforcement officer, school official, or government facility official
- Posted signage
- Fencing or other enclosures
Acting as a defiant trespasser is considered a third-degree misdemeanor in most cases. In cases where a law enforcement officer, school official or government facility official provides the warning, the act will be a first-degree misdemeanor.
A simple trespasser is one who remains in any place for the following reasons:
- To make threatening or terrorizing acts, gestures, or statements toward the owner of the premises
- To start or cause a fire on the premises
- To deface, damage, or otherwise vandalize the premises
An act of a simple trespasser is treated as a summary offense.
An agricultural trespasser is one who trespasses on the following conditions:
- Trespassing on agricultural land that is clearly marked or enclosed to prevent such individuals from entering
- Remains on the premises of agricultural land after being instructed to leave by owners or other authority figures
Agricultural trespassing is a third-degree misdemeanor in most cases, but a second-degree misdemeanor if they have been instructed to leave.
What Are the Penalties for Criminal Trespass Charges?
Since the range of types of criminal trespass range so far, there are a number of different types of punishments and penalties that the court may impose. In addition, these penalties may be increased if the trespass is related to a domestic violence incident, or if it is a repeat offense. Penalties and charges can also be compounded if a person is the defendant of a PFA order.
For trespassing, an offense can either be a third or second-degree felony depending on the circumstances. Third-degree felony charges are punishable by 7 years of jail time, and fines up to $15,000. Second-degree felony charges are punishable by up to 10 years in jail and fines up to $25,000.
For a defiant trespasser, the offenses are either a first-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree misdemeanor. First-degree misdemeanor charges are punishable by up to 5 years of jail time, and fines of $10,000. Third-degree misdemeanors are punishable by jail time up to 1 year and fines up to $2,000.
For simple trespassers, the offense will be a summary offense, which can include 90 days of jail time, and fines up to $300.
Agricultural trespassing has specific penalties defined in the statute. These are:
- Imprisonment for a term of not more than one year and a fine of not less than $250, for standard trespassing (third-degree misdemeanor)
- Imprisonment for a term of not more than two years and a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $5,000 (second-degree misdemeanor)
What Are Some Examples of Criminal Trespass?
Some common examples of criminal trespass can include the following situations:
- Visiting a person unannounced: Failure to alert someone of a visit to their property can sometimes lead to charges of trespassing.
- Refusing to leave after being instructed: If a person repeatedly asks someone to leave, they may be charged with criminal trespass as a defiant trespasser.
- Forceful entry into a person's home: Forcefully entering a person's home or residence constitutes trespassing.
- Making threats to a person while on their property: If a person is on another's property or place of residence and making threats, they may find themselves with criminal trespass charges.
How Can I Defend Against Criminal Trespass Charges?
Defending against criminal trespass charges can be difficult. The situation can become even more complicated when a person is involved in a domestic violence incident, or if they have violated a PFA order. Much of the time, however, these charges rely on a person's intent to harm, or intent to trespass. The prosecutor must prove that a defendant's state of mind was intending to cause a disturbance or other issue.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal trespass charges can complicate a person's life. If the defendant has been negotiating aspects of family law, such as custody or divorce, these charges can have drastic effects on these as well. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to analyze the situation fully to find ways to turn the situation around. If you or a loved one is facing criminal trespass charges, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.