Have you ever wondered what would happen if you get caught trespassing? Maybe you are rambling through the backwoods and don’t really care whose property you’re on.
Maybe you just took a wrong turn hiking. Or maybe circumstances have forced you to take a shortcut.
Yeah, that’s what we’ll say… In any case, although trespassing is usually thought of as a much lesser crime, and in the grand scheme of things it is, it can still mean significant penalties in a legitimate criminal record.
So, what happens if you get caught trespassing?
If you are caught trespassing you could be asked to leave, or face arrest outright along with charges and prosecution depending on the circumstances.
Prosecution means you’ll be punished with fines, probation, jail time or even a lengthy stint in prison. In any case, you’ll officially have a criminal record.
Turns out that most of the time if you are caught actually trespassing you aren’t just going to get a stern talking to from a cop before you get sent on your way.
You might actually wind up facing an actual court case and everything associated with it.
That’s definitely not something you want, so it’s important to understand exactly what to expect whether or not you get caught accidentally trespassing, or deliberately trespassing for some other purpose.
Trespassing is trespassing, and all you can hope to do is defend yourself against the charges. Keep reading to learn more.
Do You Know You Shouldn’t Be There?
First, trespassing is only trespassing broadly speaking under two distinct circumstances.
The first is when you are on private property, or public property, when you know you don’t have permission to be there.
For instance, if you are on someone else’s land that is posted with no-trespassing signage, is enclosed with fencing or walls, marked with purple paint at strategic points or if you have been previously notified by the property owner or owners agent verbally or in writing that you don’t have permission to be on the property, and you go anyway, you are trespassing from the first step.
Concerning public property or any other place where you have tacit approval to be there, you can still trespass if you enter any private “employees only” area or room that isn’t open to the public, or if you’re there because you didn’t pay for access or something else like that.
Basically, if you know that you don’t have any right or permission to be where you are on someone else’s property, you are trespassing.
That is all that is required for the owner to actually press charges against you.
On the other hand, in some states, and especially on unimproved land, if the property is not posted or enclosed you might actually be able to freely travel over it or remain on it until told to leave.
You’ll have to check your state statutes for that one.
Or Having Permission to Be There, Has the Property Owner Revoked It?
Speaking of being told to leave, this is the second general kind of trespassing…
If you are on any property, public or private, where you have express or tacit permission to be there and that permission is revoked by the property owner or the owner’s authorized agent you have to leave.
If you don’t, typically you’ll be considered trespassing. If you refuse to leave, you can be arrested and charged with trespass.
Now, there’s a lot more nuance to this concerning “public” property.
Generally, businesses that are open to the public have more guidelines and laws concerning who is allowed to access that property and under what conditions.
As an example, if you have some medical condition that prevents you from adhering to a dress code or code of conduct in a business, they might not be able to force you to leave under threat of trespass.
But as you might imagine, this is a very sticky and truly complicated subject that is best left to the attorneys.
If you know the law and you know your rights, by all means make your stand but understand that you will still, in all probability, go to court and have to prove your case!
In short, if you have permission to be somewhere and the owner revokes it, you’ve got to leave or else you’ll be trespassed.
If you cause a disturbance, the police might remove you from the property, give you notice of trespass, and then if you return in violation of that trespass, order you can be arrested and charged.
Are You in a Sensitive or Restricted Area?
There are some places where hardly any excuse whatsoever will suffice when it comes to trespassing.
Restricted areas associated with government buildings and critical infrastructure like power plants, electrical substations, airports, rail yards, military bases and places like that are strict no-go zones.
If you get caught in any of these places it is extremely likely that you’ll be detained, arrested and then charged, and very likely jailed straight away.
Another, similar situation is trespassing in any declared emergency or disaster area that has a perimeter around it or is in a defined geographical or civic area.
Doing so is likely to be considered interfering with first-responders and official business, and you’ll be treated accordingly.
It is imperative that you avoid entering any such restricted area under any circumstances, or you will face the consequences.
In Any Case, Apologize Profusely and Offer to Leave at Once
Now, this isn’t a guarantee, and it sure as heck isn’t legal advice, but whatever the case, whatever the conditions, if you get caught trespassing, accidentally or otherwise, it is always in your best interest to apologize and offer to simply leave right away.
Assuming you aren’t committing any other crime by being there, and reminder that trespassing is a crime in and of itself, if you are caught by property owner they might allow you to just go with the admonishment that you never come back.
Even if you’re caught by the police in some cases you might be detained, your identity verified, and then you could be let go.
You’re always better off being polite and showing contrition for your actions. Doing so might let you duck charges and a subsequent trial.
Believe me, most trespassing penalties will still result in significant fines being leveled against you or even jail time, so take it seriously.
And either case, you’ll still have a criminal record which can affect you for the rest of your life.
If Caught Trespassing, You Can Be Arrested and Charged
So, whether you are told to leave and refuse to go, are caught somewhere wantonly trespassing or return to an area you have been banned from in defiance of orders, you can be arrested.
Chances are very good you will spend a little time in jail after you are booked and subsequently charged but you might be released on your own recognizance with the understanding that you show up for all of your court dates.
When this happens, you’ll need to either bring your own attorney in or a public defender will be assigned to you.
The court will hear the details of the case, and then you’ll be found guilty or not guilty assuming the case isn’t dropped for whatever reason.
Then, you’ll have to face the punishment and adhere to the strictures set down by the court.
The Severity of Trespassing Charges Varies from State to State
Something else to consider is that the precise schedule of trespassing charges and the attendant punishments vary greatly from state to state.
One kind of trespassing might merely be an infraction in one state, meaning you have to pay a tiny fine and then you can be let on your way.
The exact same charge in a different state could see you slapped with a multi-thousand dollar penalty, a stint in jail, or maybe both!
You cannot afford to assume: look up and learn the trespassing statutes in your state, no exceptions!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.