If you enter someone else’s property without permission, you can be charged with a crime called criminal trespass. In addition to being charged with a crime, you may face monetary penalties in civil court. In the criminal system, however, trespassing is punishable by fines and in some cases even jail time. An experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer at Broden & Mickelsen, LLP will help you understand the legal ramifications for criminal trespassing in Texas.
Trespass Under Texas Law
In Texas, entering or staying on another person’s property after you’ve been ordered to leave can rise to the level of trespass if three elements are met:
- Entering the Property – The trespassing party must actually enter the property or stay on it after being ordered to leave.
- Without Consent – The property owner didn’t give consent for the trespasser to be on the property.
- Notice – The property owner gave proper notice that entry onto the property was forbidden.
In many cases, a trespass charge turns on whether the property owner gave proper notice. Under Texas law, there are five types of proper notice. It’s also important for property owners to be aware of what the stand your ground laws in Texas mean, in terms of protecting themselves, the ones they love and their property.
5 Types of Notice for Criminal Trespass
In the context of criminal trespass, Texas law identifies five different types of notice.
- Oral or Written CommunicationNotice can be an oral or written communication. For example, a property owner who sees an invited guest on their property can order them to leave by issuing a verbal warning or command.A property owner can also issue notice through writing. For example, if a tenant invites someone to stay with them, and the guest ends up staying on the property for longer than an average visit, the landlord might send a letter instructing the guest to leave the property.
- FencingNotice can also come in the form of fencing or another type of enclosure. When a piece of property is fenced off, visitors should assume entry is forbidden unless they’re given permission by the property owner to enter.Examples of various types of fencing include a fence in a property owner’s backyard, as well as livestock fencing in an open field.
- SignsNotice can also come in the form of a sign. A property owner issues proper notice when they post a sign that says “no trespassing” in a visible place on their property.
- Paint MarksTexas law also allows property owners to use “readily visible purple paint marks” on trees or posts placed no more than 100 feet apart on forested property and no more than 1,000 feet apart on non-forested property.
- CropsIn Texas, notice can also come in the form of cropland. If a field is obviously being used to grow crops, or the land is being harvested, this is considered adequate notice that entry is forbidden.
Punishment for Trespass
Texas law makes it a Class B misdemeanor to trespass on another person’s property. This type of misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.
However, there may be cases where trespassing is charged as a more serious crime, depending on the circumstances. For example, trespassing can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor in cases in which the trespasser is in possession of a deadly weapon at the time of the trespass. This type of misdemeanor can carry a maximum fine of $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
Can You Trespass on Public Land?
People sometimes wonder if it’s possible to trespass in an area open and accessible to the public. This can include public parks, beaches and other areas where the public has free access.
It’s possible to trespass on public property if the property closes at certain hours, or if signs prohibit people from entering under specific circumstances. For example, an individual who enters a public park after it closes for the evening could be charged with trespassing.
This is why it’s important to pay attention to signs when you’re in a public space. If you’re uncertain about a public area’s rules for entry, and you don’t see any visible signs, it’s worth checking online for posted hours and other important information.
Defenses to Trespassing
If you’ve been charged with trespassing, there are several possible defenses available to you.
For example, you may be able to argue that you entered the property due to an emergency. Under Texas law, emergency personnel and individuals who work for a public utility, cable provider, or telecommunications company have a “statutory defense” to trespassing, which means they can’t be charged with trespassing if they entered the property as part of their job.
You may also be able to argue that necessity caused you to enter the property without permission.
For example, if a flood washed out a road and you crossed someone’s property in your vehicle to get to safety, an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer could successfully argue that you had no choice but to enter the property. Keep in mind, however, that you’re likely to be held financially responsible for any damage you inflicted on the property, such as a broken fence.
If you’ve been charged with trespassing or any other type of crime in Texas, your best defense is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at the Broden & Mickelsen, LLP in Dallas as soon as possible.
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.