California Penal Code 601 PC sets out a special form of California trespass known as “aggravated trespass”—sometimes referred to as “felony trespass” or “trespass after making threats.”1
According to Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse2:
“You commit the crime of aggravated trespass if you commit trespass within thirty (30) days of making a threat against the physical safety of the person on whose property you are trespassing. It's very common for aggravated trespass to be charged in connection with domestic violence and/or Penal Code 646.9 PC stalking cases.”
The legal definition of aggravated trespass
The legal definition of aggravated/felony trespass consists of the following “elements of the crime.” (These are facts the prosecutor must prove in order for you to be guilty of this offense.)
- You made a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury to another person;
- You made that threat with the intent to place the other person in reasonable fear for his/her safety or the safety of his/her immediate family; and
- Within thirty (30) days of making the threat, you unlawfully entered the threatened person's residence, the property next to his/her residence, or his/her workplace, without a lawful purpose and with intent to carry out the threat.3
A “credible threat” has to make the target of the threat reasonably fear for his/her safety or that of a family member. It can be made either orally, in writing or electronically. It can also be implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of statements and conduct.4
Example: Stacy's boyfriend leaves her for a woman named Cara. Stacy sends Cara an email saying she is going to make Stacy pay for what she has done. Later that day, Cara and Stacy run into each other on the street and Stacy shows her that she has a pistol in her purse.
Two weeks later Stacy breaks into Cara's house. Cara calls the police, and Stacy is arrested.
Stacy may be guilty of aggravated trespass, since the combination of her statements and conduct probably created a reasonable threat against Cara. (She may also face Penal Code 459 PC burglary charges if the prosecutors allege that she intended to commit a felony such as assault with a deadly weapon (“ADW”) inside Cara's house.)
A “serious bodily injury” means a serious impairment of physical condition, such as:
- Loss of consciousness;
- Bone fracture;
- Protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ;
- A wound requiring extensive suturing; or
- Serious disfigurement.5
Example: Ian loses several hundred dollars to Matt in a poker game. He is convinced Matt cheated. Ian calls Matt on the phone and tells him that he's going to do whatever it takes to get his money back.
A few days later Ian sneaks into Matt's house through an unlocked window. Matt is not home, but his girlfriend is, and she calls the police. After the police arrive and apprehend him, Ian admits that he planned to take money from Matt's house to make up for the amount he lost.
Ian is not guilty of aggravated trespass because he did not threaten or intend to inflict a serious injury on Matt.
It is important to note that you cannot be guilty of aggravated trespass if the place you enter is also your own residence or workplace.6
Example: David finds out that his live-in girlfriend Maria has been cheating on him. He threatens to choke her to death. But instead he storms out of the apartment they share. Maria locks the door behind him.
Several hours later, David comes back very drunk. He has forgotten his keys and pounds on the door, telling Maria he is back to teach her a lesson. When she won't open the door for him, he breaks the lock and comes in.
David may be guilty of other offenses, such as Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats or attempted domestic battery. But he is not guilty of trespass after making threats, because the apartment he entered was his.
California Penal Code 601 penalties
Despite being known as “felony trespass,” PC 601 aggravated trespass actually is what is known as a “wobbler” in California law.7
- The exact nature of the allegations; and
- The defendant's criminal history.
Aggravated trespass as a misdemeanor carries the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
- Up to one (1) year in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).8
When Penal Code 601 PC is charged as a felony, it carries the following penalties:
- Felony (formal) probation;
- Sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years served in county jail under California's realignment program; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).9
Legal defenses against aggravated trespass charges
Common legal defenses to charges of aggravated/felony trespassing include:
- The alleged threat wasn't actually credible;
- When you made the threat, you did not actually intend to cause the person to fear for his/her safety (for example, you may have been joking);
- You did not intend to carry out the threat when you entered the other person's residence or workplace (for example, you may have intended to apologize to him/her for the threat); and
- You did not know you were entering the workplace of the alleged “victim.”
Call us for help…
For questions about the crime of Penal Code 601 PC aggravated trespass, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
For more information about trespass laws in Nevada, please see our page on trespass laws in Nevada.
1 Penal Code 601 PC – Trespass by credible threat to cause serious bodily injury with intent to place another in reasonable fear and unlawful entry within 30 days into residence or contiguous real property or workplace of threatened person. (“(a) Any person is guilty of trespass who makes a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 417.6, to another person with the intent to place that other person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family, as defined in subdivision (l) of Section 646.9, and who does any of the following: (1) Within 30 days of the threat, unlawfully enters into the residence or real property contiguous to the residence of the person threatened without lawful purpose, and with the intent to execute the threat against the target of the threat. (2) Within 30 days of the threat, knowing that the place is the threatened person's workplace, unlawfully enters into the workplace of the person threatened and carries out an act or acts to locate the threatened person within the workplace premises without lawful purpose, and with the intent to execute the threat against the target of the threat. (b) Subdivision (a) shall not apply if the residence, real property, or workplace described in paragraph (1) or (2) that is entered is the residence, real property, or workplace of the person making the threat. (c) This section shall not apply to any person who is engaged in labor union activities which are permitted to be carried out on the property by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, Part 3.5 (commencing with Section 1140) of Division 2 of the Labor Code, or by the National Labor Relations Act. (d) A violation of this section shall be punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”)
2 Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse is the Managing Attorney of Shouse Law Group. He is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, where he worked on cases ranging from misdemeanors like trespass to wobblers like aggravated trespass to complex, high-profile felonies.
3 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 2929 – Trespass After Making Credible Threat (Pen. Code, § 601(a)). (“The defendant is charged [in Count ] with trespass after making a credible threat [in violation of Penal Code section 601(a)]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1. The defendant made a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury to another person; 2. The defendant made the threat with the intent to place the other person in reasonable fear for (his/her) safety [or for the safety of (his/her) immediate family]; AND <Alternative 3A—entered home> [3. Within 30 days of making the threat, the defendant unlawfully entered the threatened person's residence[, or the real property next to the residence of the threatened person,] without a lawful purpose and with the intent to carry out the threat against the target of the threat.] <Alternative 3B—entered workplace> [3. Within 30 days of making the threat, the defendant unlawfully entered the workplace of the threatened person, knowing that the place (he/she) entered was the threatened person's workplace, and tried to locate that person without a lawful purpose and with the intent to carry out the threat.] A credible threat is one that causes the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety [or for the safety of his or her immediate family] and one that the maker of the threat appears able to carry out.”)
4 CALCRIM 2929 – Trespass After Making Credible Threat (Pen. Code, § 601(a)). (“A credible threat is one that causes the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety [or for the safety of his or her immediate family] and one that the maker of the threat appears able to carry out. A credible threat may be made orally, in writing, or electronically or may be implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of statements and conduct.”)
5 CALCRIM 2929 – Trespass After Making Credible Threat (Pen. Code, § 601(a)). (“A serious bodily injury means a serious impairment of physical condition. Such an injury may include[, but is not limited to]: (loss of consciousness/ concussion/ bone fracture/ protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ/ a wound requiring extensive suturing/ [and] serious disfigurement).”)
6 Penal Code 601 PC – Trespass by credible threat to cause serious bodily injury with intent to place another in reasonable fear and unlawful entry within 30 days into residence or contiguous real property or workplace of threatened person, endnote 1 above.
See also Penal Code 1170(h) PC – Determinate sentencing. (“(h)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a felony punishable pursuant to this subdivision where the term is not specified in the underlying offense shall be punishable by a term of imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or two or three years.”)
See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies [such as felony trespass], in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)