Aggravated trespass sounds like a common crime – we are used to seeing “no trespassing” signs on people’s private properties, so it must be similar to that, right? In fact, aggravated trespass has less to do with traipsing around a private property and more to do with a threat of physical harm towards another person.
Aggravated trespass can be quite a serious crime. If you or a loved one are accused of or charged with aggravated trespass, you may be feeling lost and confused about what you did wrong or how to defend yourself. Long Beach Criminal Attorney works with clients across the greater Long Beach and Los Angeles region and we have defended many people against aggravated trespass charges, helping them avoid convictions.
Because aggravated trespassing can be complicated to understand, we put together this guide. It is important to know that this guide is educational only; do not use this information as legal advice in your specific case, as there may be specific events or situations in your case that are not included here. Speaking with a professional attorney is the only way to get specific, individualized help and legal counsel when deciding how to navigate a charge of aggravated trespass in California.
How the Law Defines Aggravated Trespass
Aggravated trespassing is a two-part offense: first, a person must initiate a threat against a second person (or the direct family of that person), and, second, the alleged trespasser enters a property illicitly within a specific timeframe of the threat as a way of carrying out that threat.
California Penal Code Section 601 is the law that makes such aggravated trespassing illegal.
Aggravated trespass is defined as any time a person makes a believable, authentic threat towards another person to cause serious jury to that person’s body (outlined by California Penal Code Section 417.6), with additional conditions:
The threat must be a means of causing reasonable fear for the other person’s safety or the safety of the person’s immediate family (outlined by Penal Code Section 646.9)
The trespasser then performs any of the following actions:
- Within 1 month (30 days) of issuing the threat, the person illegally enters the residence of the person who is the subject of the threat (s), or an adjacent property of the person’s residence, with the intention of executing or otherwise playing out the threat against the intended person.
- Within 1 month (30 days) of issuing the threat, the person illegally enters the workplace of the threatened subject, knowing full well it is indeed the person’s workplace, and either performs an action in line with the threat or attempts to locate the threatened subject without a legal purpose, in order to execute or otherwise playing out the threat.
Importantly, there are some exceptions to these situations:
- Aggravated trespass is not an illegal action if the person making the threat (and attempting to fulfill it) and the person subjected to the threat live in the same residence or real property or have the same workplace.
- Aggravated trespass is not an illegal action for any person who works in labor union activities that are allowed to occur on the property in question, as per the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, Part 3.5, which is part of Labor Code Division 2, or the National Labor Relations Act.
Trespass vs Aggravated Trespass in California
It is important to recognize that trespassing and aggravated trespassing are not the same thing. Though the term “trespass” is often understood in casual setting, California state law recognizes two different forms of trespassing: trespassing and aggravated trespassing.
Depending on who you ask, trespassing can mean a lot of things. A property owner may say it means any person who steps on or their property, perhaps taking some wood or kindling, without permission. A business owner may say it means any person loitering inside their business for a long time, only to leave without buying something. For city dwellers, it can mean a homeless person or vagrant living for days or weeks on a city street, under a bridge, or in an empty home without permission.
Trespassing in California is illegal per California Penal Code Section 602, the section just after aggravated trespassing. The key takeaway when understanding trespassing is that it is a person willfully entering a property of another with some intent to interfere with that person’s property rights. Importantly, the person’s entry can even be consensual, but it can veer from that if the person in questioned interfered, or intended to, with the owner’s property rights.
Trespassing alone is the less severe crime, usually treated as a misdemeanor, though it can be treated as an infraction or a felony.
Aggravated trespassing, on the other hand, has less to do with property rights and more to do with the safety of and threat to another person. When the alleged trespasser threatens the alleged victim, that is the primary concern: the safety for the person and/or the person’s family. The willful entering of another’s property is only the means to then continue to threaten or to fulfill the threat against the alleged victim.
Proving Aggravated Trespass
Is another person accusing you of aggravated trespass? Do you suspect you will be charged with aggravated trespass? In such cases of aggravated trespass, the burden of proof rests with the prosecuting team. That means it is the lawyer for the person accusing you of such a crime to prove to the court that you are guilty.
In attempting to prove this, the prosecutor likely must prove the following circumstances:
- You credibly threatened another person with serious physical injury.
- The court determines bodily harm as: a concussion, fainting or a loss of consciousness, a bone break or fracture, a wound requiring a lot of stitching, the loss or impairment of a body part or organ, or disfigurement.
- The threat can be made in person, in writing, or even digitally – such as by text or on social media.
- With this threat, you intended to create reasonable fear for the other person and/or the person’s immediate family.
- Within 30 days of initiating the threat, you illegally entered one of the following locations and had the intent to carry out the threat:
- The residence of the person
- The property adjacent to the person’s residence
- The workplace of the person
Defense Strategies Against Aggravated Trespass
A good defense attorney will first seek to understand your situation as best as possible. You should help your attorney create your best defense by sharing all information related to the situation, even if you think it doesn’t matter. Then, your attorney will begin building your defense case.
Here are some common legal defense strategies against charges of aggravated felony:
- The alleged threat that the other party perceived was in fact not a credible threat from you. For instance, perhaps the threat was wholly incredible or you had actually been joking, but the other person didn’t understand that.
- Your intent in entering the property wasn’t to pursue your threat. For instance, perhaps you had issued a credible threat, but then decided to enter the property in order to withdraw your threat or apologize for it.
- Upon entering a property, you did not know it was the person’s workplace – for instance, perhaps you didn’t know the person you threatened worked at the nearby technology store or restaurant you visited.
- You did not commit the crime, either the threat or entering the property, or both.
Punishment for Aggravated Trespass
Aggravated trespass is sometimes called a felony trespass, but in fact not all cases of aggravated trespass are prosecuted at felony crimes. A prosecutor can decide whether to pursue the aggravated trespass crime as either a misdemeanor (less severe) or a felony (more severe). This is known as a “wobbler” offense in California, because the punishment could play out it a couple different ways.
The prosecutor will often rely on the specific nature of the allegations in question as well as the criminal history of the defendant to determine whether to proceed as a misdemeanor or felony crime.
If you are determined to be guilty of aggravated trespass as a misdemeanor, the court can issue a punishment of:
- Imprisonment in accordance with Section 1170 subdivision (h)
- Imprisonment in a county jail (not state prison) for up to 1 year
- A fine of an amount up to $2,000
- Misdemeanor probation (sometimes known as summary probation)
- Any combination of fine and imprisonment therein
If you are determined to be guilty of aggravated trespass as a felony, the court can issue a punishment of:
- Imprisonment in a county jail (not state prison) for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years as part of the realignment program in California
- A fine of an amount up to $20,000
- Felony probation (also known as formal probation)
- Any combination of fine and imprisonment therein
Importantly, if your crime is prosecuted as a felony and you are determined to be guilty, you may be subject to additional losses. For instance, felony convictions can make it extremely difficult to obtain or keep gainful employment and certain professional licenses issued by the State of California.
Federal law further prohibits convicted felons from the following rights:
- The right to vote
- The right to possess legal firearms and ammunition
- The right to hold public office
Fact Checking Aggravated Trespassing
Aggravated trespassing simply means spending too much time on another person’s private property. False. If the willful intent is simply to misuse another person’s private property, that likely false under the crime of trespassing, not aggravated trespassing. The California Penal Code makes both crimes illegal, but they are not the same thing.
Aggravated trespassing is based on a real or believable threat of physical harm to another person or another person’s family or loved ones. True. “Aggravated” means ‘to make something more severe’. In this case, the idea that you are entering property is ‘made more severe’ by the idea that you are or are thought to be carrying out the earlier-made threat against a person. The illicit entering of another’s property is the secondary crime to the primary crime of bodily harm threats.
In order for a crime to be aggravated trespassing, a legal “no trespassing” sign must be posted and visible. False. A no trespassing sign has no bearing on a case of aggravated trespassing. Instead, such a sign is more commonly associated with the less severe crime of trespassing. If the prosecuting team can prove you stepping onto or into a property with the intention of carrying out your threat, that may be enough to secure a guilty decision against you.
You do not need to actually cause bodily harm to the person in order to be convicted of aggravated assault. True. Proving aggravated assault rests with the intent to carry out a threat, regardless of whether you actually did commit bodily harm. For instance, let’s pretend you have threatened another person with bodily injury and then the following week went to their workplace with the intent to injure the person. Even if the security guard prevented you from seeing the person, you can still be convicted of the crime, if the prosecuting team can prove your intent to injure.
A charge of aggravated trespass is the same as a conviction. False. A charge and a conviction are not the same thing. When a person brings formal charges against you, they are simply initiating a legal process that will explore whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime in question.
Aggravated Trespassing Attorney Near You
If someone accuses you of aggravated trespassing in California, know that you have options. Formal charges do not mean you will be convicted of the crime. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we help people across Long Beach and the greater Los Angeles region to fight the charges brought against them. Our team is experienced in defending charges of aggravated trespassing and we can help you with your case – simply call us today at 562-308-7807.