Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land, Vehicles
Crime Class: Misdemeanor
Fencing Required?: No, but crossing fencing or barrier during trespass escalates penalty.
Signage Required?: No, but trespassing in disregard of posted sign escalates penalty.
Verbal Notice Required?: No, but trespass in defiance of verbal notice escalates penalty.
New Jersey Trespassing Law Overview
- Trespassing in New Jersey is typically a misdemeanor but some categories might fall into felony status.
- Trespassing upon utility company property or trespassing while armed with a weapon might fall under the provisions of the burglary statute. (See below.)
- Operating a motor vehicle or riding a horse on lands of others without written permission is a punishable offense in New Jersey.
- New Jersey has a “Peeping Tom” law.
Relevant New Jersey State Statutes
- 2C:18-1 Definitions.
- 2C:18-2 Burglary.
- 2C:18-3 Unlicensed entry of structures; defiant trespasser; peering into dwelling places; defenses.
- 2C:18-4. Lands defined
- 2C:18-5. Knowingly or recklessly operating motor vehicle or riding horseback on lands of another without written permission, or damaging or injuring tangible property
- 2C:18-6. Offenses; penalties; restitution
You should always begin with the definitions whenever you are reviewing any legal documents or statutes, and New Jersey is no different.
A pleasant surprise; the relevant definitions for New Jersey are short, clear and concise and entirely pertinent to the remainder of the section.
Aside from the ones in 2C:18-1 any other relevant definitions will be found in their respective sections:
2C:18-1. In this chapter, unless a different meaning plainly is required:
“Structure” means any building, room, ship, vessel, car, vehicle or airplane, and also means any place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or for carrying on business therein, whether or not a person is actually present.
“Utility Company Property” means property; (1) owned by a public utility, as defined in R.S.48:2-13, or by a municipality, county, water district, authority or other public agency, and (2) which is used for the purpose of providing electric, gas or water utility service.
“Operational area” means any portion of a public airport, from which access by the public is prohibited by fences or appropriate signs, and includes runways, taxiways, all ramps, cargo ramps and apron areas, aircraft parking and storage areas, fuel storage areas, maintenance areas, and any other area of a public airport used or intended to be used for landing, takeoff or surface maneuvering of aircraft.
“Sterile area” means a portion of an airport, as set forth in an airport security program approved by the Transportation Security Administration, that provides passengers access to boarding aircraft and to which the access generally is controlled by the Transportation Security Administration, an aircraft operator pursuant to 49 C.F.R. part 1544, or an air carrier pursuant to 49 C.F.R. part 1546, through the screening of persons and property.
All of the above definitions are self-explanatory and will be readily apparent throughout the rest of this chapter. Of particular note is the definition of “structure” which includes all vehicles.
Also take note that the definition of “utility company property” is quite broad and includes some types of property you might not expect.
Next up is section 2C:18-2, which has a subparagraph that might pertain to you if you happen to trespass on utility company property, especially while armed:
a. Burglary defined. A person is guilty of burglary if, with purpose to commit an offense therein or thereon he:
(1) Enters a research facility, structure, or a separately secured or occupied portion thereof unless the structure was at the time open to the public or the actor is licensed or privileged to enter;
(2) Surreptitiously remains in a research facility, structure, or a separately secured or occupied portion thereof knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so; or
(3) Trespasses in or upon utility company property where public notice prohibiting trespass is given by conspicuous posting, or fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders.
b. Grading. Burglary is a crime of the second degree if in the course of committing the offense, the actor:
(1) Purposely, knowingly or recklessly inflicts, attempts to inflict or threatens to inflict bodily injury on anyone; or
(2) Is armed with or displays what appear to be explosives or a deadly weapon.
Otherwise burglary is a crime of the third degree. An act shall be deemed “in the course of committing” an offense if it occurs in an attempt to commit an offense or in immediate flight after the attempt or commission.
The operative clause from paragraph 1, “with intent to commit an offense” is what makes this section so interesting.
Of course in the matter of any prosecution the state will have to prove but you had intent to commit some other offense aside from simple trespass, whether you accidentally were trespassing or not will be immaterial, upon any utility company property it is either enclosed or has posted public notice prohibiting trespass.
Trust me, you do not want to take your chances in court on this one, and it is far from inconceivable that on larger properties you might miss signage.
This is a second degree crime in New Jersey if you do so while armed or displaying any deadly weapon or explosives. So if you’re carrying something as innocuous as a folding pocket knife you might be headed for a bad time.
But assuming you are completely unarmed it is still a third degree crime to do so otherwise. I do not make this point because I believe that any of our readers are burglars or would-be burglars, but the fact remains that laws that are loosely or poorly written often and tangle otherwise innocent people in their wide net. You must be cautious.
The next section covers the bulk of the trespass laws in the state of New Jersey:
2C:18-3 Unlicensed entry of structures; defiant trespasser; peering into dwelling places; defenses.
2C:18-3. a. Unlicensed entry of structures. A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or surreptitiously remains in any research facility, structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof, or in or upon utility company property, or in the sterile area or operational area of an airport.
An offense under this subsection is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in a school or on school property. The offense is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in a dwelling. An offense under this section is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in a research facility, power generation facility, waste treatment facility, public sewage facility, water treatment facility, public water facility, nuclear electric generating plant or any facility which stores, generates or handles any hazardous chemical or chemical compounds.
An offense under this subsection is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in or upon utility company property. An offense under this subsection is a crime of the fourth degree if it is committed in the sterile area or operational area of an airport. Otherwise it is a disorderly persons offense.
b. Defiant trespasser. A person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:
(1) Actual communication to the actor; or
(2) Posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders; or
(3) Fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders.
c. Peering into windows or other openings of dwelling places. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he peers into a window or other opening of a dwelling or other structure adapted for overnight accommodation for the purpose of invading the privacy of another person and under circumstances in which a reasonable person in the dwelling or other structure would not expect to be observed.
d. Defenses. It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) A structure involved in an offense under subsection a. was abandoned;
(2) The structure was at the time open to members of the public and the actor complied with all lawful conditions imposed on access to or remaining in the structure; or
(3) The actor reasonably believed that the owner of the structure, or other person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him to enter or remain, or, in the case of subsection c. of this section, to peer.
Despite its length this statute is pretty easy to understand. Under paragraph (a), if you enter or remain in or upon any of the properties or places listed in the paragraph knowing that you are not licensed or otherwise have the privilege to do so you are committing criminal trespass.
Doing so in any of those listed places is a fourth degree crime. Doing it anywhere else not specifically listed will get you a disorderly persons charge.
Being a defiant trespasser will also get you a disorderly persons charge. What is a disorderly persons charge? Paragraph (b) tells us that it is entering or remaining in, at or upon any premises when a person has prior notice that their presence is forbidden.
This notice can take the form of direct personal notification, a posted sign or notice, or the property being fenced, enclosed or otherwise enclosed in such a way that is intended to exclude intruders.
Paragraph (c) sets out the act of peeping and the penalty. Being a peeping tom is never alright, people, come on!
Lastly, (d) shows us affirmative defenses to the charges in this section, with the only ones relevant to most people being that the building so trespassed within was abandoned, or that they were under the sincere impression that they had explicit permission from the owner of the building or the property to be there.
Don’t let yourself off the hook too easy, yet: affirmative defenses are ones that must be proven out in court.
They are not ones that will get you out of a charge or arrest at the instance, so unless you want to take your chances in a court of law don’t think you can go trespassing anywhere you want willy-nilly just because New Jersey lists a few affirmative defenses against it.
The next section defines Lands as it pertains to the rest of this section:
2C:18-4. Lands defined
As used in this act, “lands” means agricultural or horticultural lands devoted to the production for sale of plants and animals useful to man, encompassing plowed or tilled fields, standing crops or their residues, cranberry bogs and appurtenant dams, dikes, canals, ditches and pump houses, including impoundments, man-made reservoirs and the adjacent shorelines thereto, orchards, nurseries, and lands with a maintained fence for the purpose of restraining domestic livestock. “Lands” shall also include lands in agricultural use, as defined in section 3 of P.L.1983, c. 32 (C. 4:1C-13), where public notice prohibiting trespass is given by actual communication to the actor, conspicuous posting, or fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders.
There you have it. The definition of lands is specifically referring to agricultural and horticultural lands devoted to the production, raising and sale of plants and animals.
This is especially relevant to the following section, 2C:18-5, and its proscription of motor vehicle operation and the riding of horses on the lands of another. Keep that definition of lands in mind as you read this one:
2C:18-5. Knowingly or recklessly operating motor vehicle or riding horseback on lands of another without written permission, or damaging or injuring tangible property
It is an offense under this act to:
a. Knowingly or recklessly operate a motorized vehicle or to ride horseback upon the lands of another without obtaining and in possession of the written permission of the owner, occupant, or lessee thereof.
b. Knowingly or recklessly damage or injure any tangible property, including, but not limited to, any fence, building, feedstocks, crops, live trees, or any domestic animals, located on the lands of another.
Short and to the point, thankfully. Note that paragraph (a) states that even if you have permission to ride horseback or operate any motorized vehicle upon the lands of another person you must obtain and have in your possession the written permission of the owner or other legal occupant of the land before you do so.
And lastly, section 2C:18-6 covers the penalties and restitution for the offenses of this chapter, and no commentary is needed:
2C:18-6. Offenses; penalties; restitution
a. An offense pursuant to section 2 of this act is a crime of the third degree if the actor causes pecuniary loss of $2,000.00 or more; a crime of the fourth degree if the actor causes pecuniary loss in excess of $500.00 but less than $2,000.00; and a disorderly persons offense if he causes pecuniary loss of $500.00 or less.
b. The provisions of N.J.S. 2C:43-3 to the contrary notwithstanding, in addition to any other sentence which the court may impose, a person convicted of an offense under this act shall be sentenced to make restitution, and to pay a fine of not less than $500.00 if the offense is a crime of the third degree; to pay a fine of not less than $200.00 if the offense is a crime of the fourth degree; and to pay a fine of not less than $100.00 when the conviction is of a disorderly persons offense.
Considering it is a state that is somewhat renowned for a bloated, invasive “Big Brother” government, New Jersey’s laws on trespassing are clear, easy to read and easy to understand for the average citizen, though how that will shake out for you in court if you get charged is anybody’s guess.
You should pay particular attention that you do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to trespass even accidentally onto any utility company properties since there is a better than even chance you could incidentally be charged with burglary, a far worse crime than simple trespass.
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.