California Criminal Trespass Laws

Most people have heard the term "trespassing" and understand its basic meaning -- to enter another's property without their permission. But legally speaking, there must also be some level of intent. Simply wandering onto someone's property is not itself a crime or a civil wrong, but scaling a fence or disregarding a "No Trespassing" sign does adequately show intent. Criminal trespassing charges often involve other wrongful acts (or the intent to commit them), such as burglary, vandalism, or invasion of privacy.

It's important to understand that trespassing is both a crime and a civil wrong. You can be arrested in California for criminal trespass if, for example, you and your friends build a bonfire on property that is clearly marked as private or otherwise off-limits. Additionally, property owners may file claims against trespassers in an effort to collect for damages, regardless of whether a crime was committed.

California Criminal Trespass Laws at a Glance

California's Penal Code identifies more than 20 different examples of what constitutes a criminal trespass charge, such as "knowingly skiing in an area ... which is closed to the public," so it's not possible to list them all here. But the basics of criminal trespassing in California are listed below.

Statutes

California Penal Code § 601 § 602

Statutory Definition of Criminal Trespass

Refusing or failing to leave land, real property, or structures belonging to or lawfully occupied by another and not open to the general public, upon being requested to leave by:

  1. A peace officer at the request of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession, and upon being informed by the peace officer that he or she is acting at the request of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession, or
  2. The owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession.

*See the full statute for a complete definition of criminal trespass under California law.

Statutory Examples of Criminal Trespassing
  • Cutting down, destroying, or injuring any kind of wood or timber standing or growing upon the lands of another.
  • Digging, taking, or carrying away from any lot situated within the limits of any incorporated city, without the license of the owner or legal occupant, any earth, soil, or stone.
  • Entering upon any lands owned by any other person whereon oysters or other shellfish are planted or growing; or injuring, gathering, or carrying away any oysters or other shellfish planted, growing, or on any of those lands, whether covered by water or not, without the license of the owner or legal occupant.
Elements of Criminal Trespassing

The specific elements of the offense are based on the specific type of trespassing alleged. But generally, the elements can be reduced to the following:

  1. Defendant willfully entered property belonging to someone else, without permission; and
  2. When defendant entered the property, he/she intended to interfere with the rightful owner's property.
Aggravated Trespass

One commits an act of aggravated trespass if he or she:

  1. Makes a credible threat of bodily harm, and
  2. Enters that person's property or place of employment within 30 days of the threat, intending to carry it out.
Defenses
  • The property wasn't sufficiently marked as private
  • You had the right to be on the property
  • You were given permission to be on the property
Charges & Penalties

Criminal Trespass: Infraction (up to $100 fine); Misdemeanor (up to 6 mos. in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000)

Aggravated Trespass: Misdemeanor (up to 1 yr. in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000);Felony (up to 3 yrs. in prison, plus fines)

*Penalties depend on the severity of the charges. For instance, simply entering someone else's land without permission (assuming it's clearly marked with signs and/or fences) is typically charged as an infraction.

Note: State laws are always subject to change. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult a criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

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Trespassing usually doesn't result in much more than a small fine, but each case is different and some cases may even be charged as felonies. If you have been charged with trespassing and believe you have a good defense, you might want to talk to an attorney about your legal options. Get started today with a free legal evaluation by a California criminal defense attorney.

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