Long ago, trespass was simply a generic word for a “wrong,” including legal wrongs. Today, trespass is a criminal offense. Understanding the criminal trespassing laws in Georgia is the first step in defending yourself from a criminal trespassing charge.
The charge of criminal trespass involves several factors. An experienced Atlanta criminal defense lawyer can explain your options and guide you through the legal system.
What Are the Elements of Criminal Trespass?
A person who unlawfully enters, or refuses to leave someone else’s property; intentionally damages the property, or defaces or defiles private property has violated the criminal trespass law. A case does not have to include all of these elements to establish a criminal trespass conviction.
The key element in trespass is intentionally entering or remaining on the property of another without authorization. In some cases, the accused truly did not know that he or she was on someone else’s property. In that case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had actual knowledge that they were on private premises. The term “reasonable doubt” means that under the facts presented, there can be no other logical explanation except that the defendant committed the crime.
What Is Criminal Trespass in Georgia?
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor. In Georgia, O.C.G.A. 16-7-21, committing any one of the following acts is considered criminal trespass:
- Intentionally damaging another person’s property without consent. The law provides the damage must be $500 or less.
- “Knowingly and maliciously” interfering with someone else’s property without consent. The damage must be intentional and accidental. The prosecution must show that the motive for the trespassing was to destroy property. “Property of another” can apply to personal or real property, as well as business activities and properties.
- Intentionally and without consent, entering someone else’s property or “into any part of any vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person for an unlawful purpose.” If, before such entry, the accused individual receives notice from the owner or authorized person that entry is not permitted, then entering is considered trespass. If the accused person receives proper notice from the owner or authorized person and then fails to depart, then they are committing trespass. However, it must be determined that the entry was done with unlawful intent. Consent to enter private property can be withdrawn at any time by the owner of the property. However, the owner must allow a reasonable amount of time for the person to leave the property. These provisions apply to real property, personal property, or a business.
- Intentionally damaging, defacing, or defiling any grave marker or another type of monument to a person who served in the military.
Georgia Supreme Court case Raburn v. State requires that trespassers receive reasonable and sufficiently explicit notice that apprises them of exactly what property they are forbidden to enter.
One common exception is that an individual may be permitted to enter in some situations, such as providing medical assistance or rescue.
According to the statute, a minor cannot give permission for someone else to enter or invite another to enter the property or vehicles, etc. without a parent’s presence or when the parent has previously given notice that entry is forbidden. Therefore, even if a minor invited a person if a parent or guardian had forbidden them to enter before it is still a crime.
Penalties for Criminal Trespass in Georgia
In Georgia, misdemeanors (including criminal trespassing) carries the sentence of either a fine up to $1,000.00, up to one year in prison, or both. If the amount of damage is more than $500.00, the charge is criminal damage to property in the second degree punishable, and the penalty includes imprisonment of not less than one nor more than five years. Trespass is often associated with other crimes. Depending on the facts of the case, additional charges may include arson, burglary, or criminal damage to property. All these charges carry additional penalties.
Defenses to Criminal Trespass
There are many factors involved in a criminal trespassing charge. Some involve trespassing at a specific location, some involve whether the notice given was adequate, and other situations require intent on your part. In defending your case, your lawyer may use witness testimony, video surveillance, officer body cameras, and more to protect your rights.
Here are a few common defenses to trespassing:
- Consent. Any evidence that the defendant had permission to be on the property will negate a trespassing charge. Consent can be given through words, actions, or written permission (for example, a license). Consent is not valid if it was obtained through fraud.
- The damage to the property was unintentional. If you can prove that you accidentally or unintentionally damaged or interfered with the use of property, you may be able to use this as a defense.
- The person giving the notice not to enter was not authorized to do so. If a friend, neighbor, or someone who was not an occupant gives the notice, then it may not be sufficient notice to support criminal trespass. Notice not to enter must be given by either the owner or a rightful occupant of the property.
- The notice not to enter was unclear. The owner of the property must give reasonable and explicit notice of what property the trespassers are not allowed to enter. If the notice was vague or ambiguous, then that could be a defense.
- Whether the accused exited the property in a timely fashion upon the owner’s request.
- The significance of any alleged damage
- Whether there was any substantial interference with the use or possession of the property. This may occur if a defendant takes or damages the property in question.
Why Do You Need an Atlanta Trespassing Lawyer?
If you see “no trespassing” signs posted on private property, it is best to avoid entering. A criminal trespass conviction may mean time in jail, community service, and expensive fines. The conviction may also show up on your criminal record. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor charge, but you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. For compassionate, experienced defense, call Schnipper Law at (404) 545-5845 or contact us online.