Penal Code § 602 PC defines criminal trespassing as entering (or remaining) on someone else’s property without permission or without a right to do so. In California, trespassing can be charged as either a felony, a misdemeanor, or a non-criminal infraction.
- camping on property that is marked with “no trespass” signs.
- hiding out in another person’s garage.
- entering someone else’s property with the intent to interfere with the business activities that are conducted there.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several defense strategies to contest trespassing charges. Some of these include showing:
- you had the right to be on the property or had a property owner’s consent,
- you did not act willfully, and/or
- the property was not fenced or marked with “no trespassing” signs.
Most violations of California Penal Code Section 602 are charged as misdemeanors. The potential penalties include:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Depending on the facts of the case, though, a prosecutor can charge trespassing as either:
- an infraction, or
- a felony.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “trespass”?
- 2. Are there common defenses to Penal Code 602 charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses
1. How does California law define “trespass”?
Trespassing is generally defined as going on or remaining on someone else’s property without either:
- the right to do so, or
- the property owner’s consent.1
But note that Penal Code 602 PC, together with related sections of the California Penal Code, describes over thirty activities that are considered criminal trespass.
The most common acts that are prohibited include:
- entering someone else’s property with the intent to damage that property,
- entering someone else’s property with the intent to interfere with or obstruct the business activities that are conducted there,
- entering and “occupying” another person’s property without permission,2
- refusing to leave private property after you’ve been asked to do so,
- taking soil, dirt, or stone off of someone else’s “land” without permission, and
- refusing screening at an airport or courthouse.3
In most instances, you are only guilty of trespass if you act willfully. “Willfully” means to act:
- deliberately, or
- on purpose.4
2. Are there common defenses to Penal Code 602 charges?
Defendants have the right to contest a trespassing charge by raising a legal defense. Three common defenses include showing that:
- you had the right to be on the property or had the consent of the property owner.
- you did not act willfully.
- the property was not fenced or marked with signs.
2.1. Right or consent to be on property
Recall that you are typically only guilty of trespass if you entered or remained on someone else’s property
- without a right to do so or
- without a property owner’s consent.
This means you can challenge a trespassing charge by showing that:
- you actually had a right to be on the property (for example, maybe you owned it), or
- the property owner gave you permission to be on the land.
2.2. No willful act
Also recall that you are usually only guilty of this offense if you act willfully. A defense, then, is for you to show that you did not deliberately violate the law. For example, maybe you were on someone else’s property because you were lost.
2.3. No fence or signs
As discussed below, you may be charged with California trespass as an infraction for entering property without consent if the property is either:
- fenced or otherwise enclosed, or
- marked by “no trespassing” signs displayed at specified intervals.5
Given the above, you can attempt to get a charge dismissed by showing that:
- the property was not actually fully enclosed with a fence, or
- signs were not posted in all the places they should have been.
3. What are the penalties?
Depending on the facts of your case, a prosecutor can charge criminal trespass as:
- a misdemeanor,
- an infraction, or
- a felony.
3.1. Misdemeanor trespass
Prosecutors file most trespassing cases as misdemeanor offenses. Misdemeanor trespass is punishable by:
- up to six months in county jail, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.6
3.2. Trespass as an infraction
A trespassing incident can lead to an infraction if:
- you willfully entered someone else’s land without permission, and
- that land was enclosed by a fence or had “no trespassing” signs posted.7
The penalties would be:
- a $75 fine for a first offense, and
- a $250 fine for a second offense on the same land.8
3.3. Aggravated (felony) trespass (Penal Code 601)
A prosecutor can charge trespass as a felony if:
- you make a credible or believable threat to seriously injure another person, intending to make that person fear for his/her safety, and
- within 30 days after making the threat, you enter the person’s property or workplace intending to carry out the threat.9
Aggravated or felony trespass is what is known as a wobbler in California law. This means a prosecutor can file the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor penalties for aggravated trespass include:
- up to one year in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $2,000.10
Felony penalties can include:
- up to three years in jail, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.11
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to criminal trespass. These are:
- burglary – PC 459
- vandalism – PC 594, and
- arson – PC 451
4.1. Burglary – PC 459
Per Penal Code 459 PC, burglary is the crime where you:
- enter a structure or locked vehicle, and
- do so with the intent to commit grand theft, petty theft or any felony offense once inside.
Unlike with trespass, California law divides burglary into two different degrees. These are
- first degree, and
- second degree.
While first-degree burglary is always charged as a felony, second-degree burglary can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
4.2. Vandalism – PC 594
Per Penal Code 594 PC, vandalism is the offense where you maliciously damage, destroy, or deface another person’s property.
Note that if you enter someone else’s property (without permission) to damage or deface it in some way, you will likely be charged with both:
- trespass, and
4.3. Arson – PC 451
Under Penal Code 451 PC, arson is the crime where you set fire to or burn any structure, forest land, or property.
As with a trespassing charge, you can try to challenge an arson charge by showing that you did not act willfully.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- As to consent, see People v. Brown (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 915. See also People v. Poe (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 928.
- Note that “occupy” is defined as follows: “To take or enter upon, possession of, to hold possession of, to hold or keep for use, to possess, to tenant, to do business in.” See People v. Wilkinson (1967) 248 Cal.App.2d Supp. 906.
- California Penal Code 602 PC.
- CALCRIM No. 2931. Trespass – Unlawfully Occupying Property. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2022 edition). See also People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102.
- See, for example, California Penal Code 602.8 PC.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California Penal Code 602.8 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 601 PC.
- See same.
- See same.