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Criminal Trespass in Texas: Legal Aspects and Ramifications

Ben Michael

Texas law protects the rights of property owners. Whether it’s a private home, a business, or land, you need permission to be on the premises. If you access someone else’s property without authorization, you can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.

However, not all intrusions are intentional; there are many situations where the lines can blur. Maybe a fence was too low or there wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign in sight. In this article, we’ll review the basics of criminal trespass in Texas, from what it means to the penalties of a conviction and how an Austin criminal defense lawyer can help.

Defining Criminal Trespass

Texas Penal Code Sec. 30.05 defines criminal trespass as entering or remaining on someone else’s property without the owner’s consent. It also applies if the person had notice that their entry was not permitted (for example, a ‘No Trespassing’ sign) or did not leave after receiving notice.

Acceptable forms of notice under Texas law include:

  • Direct communication from the property owner or someone with the authority to act on their behalf.
  • Posting signs that clearly prohibit entry. The signs need to be placed in locations where they are likely to be seen by someone approaching the property. 
  • Fencing or other forms of enclosure that clearly aim to prevent unauthorized access or to contain livestock.
  • Fields or areas that are being used to grow crops, which are obviously intended for harvesting.

Failure to comply with these notices can result in a criminal trespass charge, with penalties depending on the nature of the trespass and any aggravating circumstances.

Types of Criminal Trespass

Criminal trespass in Texas can take different forms. It can occur on residential and agricultural land as well as aircraft, boats, motor vehicles, and recreational vehicle parks. Depending on the circumstances, it may be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. 

Trespass on Real Property

Trespassing on real property in Texas refers to entering someone else’s land or building without permission. This includes any property that is not open to the public and where the owner has taken steps to restrict access, such as posting ‘No Trespassing’ signs, setting up fencing, or verbally informing people to keep out.

Trespass on Residential Property

This form of trespass specifically involves entering or remaining in a private dwelling (including houses, condos, and apartment buildings) without the owner’s consent. The distinction from general real property trespass lies in the property’s use as a residence, which increases the potential for harm or disturbance to the occupants. 

Criminal Trespass with Intent

Also known as felony trespassing, criminal trespass with intent focuses on the person’s reason for entering or remaining on the property.  When they enter a property with the intent to commit another crime, it is considered burglary. Any theft, assault, or other felonies, whether successful or merely attempted, elevate a criminal trespass charge to burglary.

In order to bring a criminal trespass charge against someone, certain legal elements must be met. They include:

  • Accessing the Property: The individual enters or remains on the property without the owner’s consent. 
  • Notice of No Entry: They must have received notice that entry was forbidden. As mentioned earlier, notice can be given in various forms.
  • Lack of Consent: At the time of the trespass, the person did not have permission or legal justification to be on the property.

In Texas, the severity of a criminal trespass can vary based on several factors, including the intent of the trespasser, the type of property trespassed upon, and whether the trespasser was carrying a weapon.

  • Intent: Intent to commit another crime (for example, theft or assault) can turn a trespass into a burglary charge, reflecting the potential harm or threat posed by the trespasser.
  • Type of Property: Trespassing on certain types of property, such as residential homes, is treated more severely than trespassing on commercial or undeveloped land. The law recognizes the heightened privacy and safety concerns associated with residential spaces.
  • Presence of Weapons: If the trespasser is found to be carrying a firearm or any other deadly weapon at the time of the offense, the offense typically becomes a felony.

A basic criminal trespass charge might be classified as a misdemeanor, resulting in fines, community service, or a short jail term. However, when aggravated by intent to commit another crime or the presence of a weapon, the charge could lead to more serious consequences, including longer periods of incarceration.

Aggravating Factors in Criminal Trespass

Criminal trespass charges in Texas can be aggravated by several factors. They include carrying weapons, causing property damage, and repeat offenses.

  • Carrying Weapons: Carrying a weapon can indicate potential intent to commit further crimes.
  • Causing Property Damage: The act of damaging property not only violates the owner’s rights to enjoy their property but also results in financial loss and potential safety issues. 
  • Repeated Offenses: Individuals who repeatedly commit trespassing offenses demonstrate a disregard for property rights and legal boundaries, which may escalate consequences.

Criminal Trespass vs. Burglary

In Texas, criminal trespass and burglary are two distinct criminal offenses. 

  • Criminal trespass involves entering or remaining on someone’s property without permission. The key elements include the lack of consent from the property owner and the presence of the trespasser on the property after receiving notice that entry is forbidden. This notice can be in the form of signs, fences, or verbal warnings. Criminal trespass is generally considered a misdemeanor.
  • Burglary involves entering a building or habitation with the intent to commit a felony like theft, or an assault once inside. Burglary is a more serious offense than criminal trespass and classified as a felony.

Consequences of Criminal Trespass

If someone is convicted of criminal trespass in Texas, the consequences usually depend on the nature of the offense itself, such as where it occurred and whether there were any aggravating factors, like carrying a weapon. Here’s a breakdown of the potential penalties:

  • Fines: Fines are common penalties for criminal trespass. The exact fine, which could be up to $4,000, will depend on the details of the offense.
  • Probation: Probation allows the person to remain in their community under certain conditions, such as regularly meeting with a probation officer, having a curfew, or avoiding certain areas.
  • Incarceration: For more serious trespassing offenses, especially those involving additional criminal activities or repeated offenses, jail time is a possibility. 

Several legal defenses can be used to challenge criminal trespass charges. These defenses, some of which are outlined below, address key elements like intent, consent, or ownership disputes.

  • Property Ownership Disputes: If it can be shown that the alleged trespasser believed that they owned or were entitled to use the property, it could negate the trespassing charge.
  • Lack of Intent: Criminal trespass involves knowingly entering or remaining on property without consent. If someone did not realize they were on private property or mistakenly believed they had permission to be there, this lack of intent can be used as a defense.
  • Consent: If there’s evidence that the property owner or their representative allowed the accused to enter or stay on the property, it could invalidate the trespassing charge.

It is important to note that certain parties, including firefighters, police, emergency responders, process servers, and utility workers, have trespassing protections. 

Trespass and Technology

Trespassing has traditionally involved entering someone’s property without permission, but in today’s digital world, it can occur without the trespasser ever leaving their home. Cases involving digital spaces often revolve around hacking or unauthorized access to computer systems and data. Examples include accessing the following without permission:

  • Bank accounts
  • Digital assets like websites and databases
  • Social media accounts

Cybersecurity laws address these issues, with legislation like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act setting the groundwork for prosecuting digital trespass. Cybersecurity units specialize in tracking and prosecuting digital trespassing and law enforcement agencies are constantly adapting to address these challenges.

Anyone facing criminal trespass charges in Texas should have legal representation. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can protect their rights, identify weakness in the prosecution’s case, and use that information to their advantage. An attorney can also gather evidence and argue for the reduction or dismissal of charges based on legal defenses such as lack of intent, consent, or ownership disputes.

At Michael & Associates, we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach for client cases. Instead, we thoroughly investigate the circumstances and evidence and tail our defense strategy accordingly. We have a solid track record of success in criminal trespass cases and thrive on turning legal challenges into an opportunity for a favorable outcome.  Our attorneys offer not just a robust defense but also peace of mind, making us a trusted choice for anyone facing criminal trespass charges in Texas.

FAQs About Criminal Trespass

How Do Degrees of Criminal Trespass Differ?

In Texas, criminal trespass can range from a misdemeanor to a more severe felony offense.

  • Class C Trespassing: This is the least serious form of trespassing and usually involves entering or staying on someone else’s land without intent to harm. A common example is hunters entering another person’s property to retrieve injured or dead animals. 
  • Class B Trespassing: This level of trespassing occurs when someone knowingly enters or remains in a personal residence or a shelter without permission. 
  • Class A Trespassing: This offense involves trespassing in a personal residence, shelter site, or a Superfund Site while carrying a deadly weapon, such as a gun, knife, or bat. 
  • Felony Trespassing: The most serious trespassing offense occurs when someone enters a habitation with the intention of committing another felony, like murder, assault, or burglary. 

What Are the Potential Consequences of a Criminal Trespass Conviction?

The potential consequences of a criminal trespass conviction can vary based on the severity of the charge. 

  • Class C Trespassing: This is considered a minor offense and usually results in a fine up to $500. There’s no jail time for Class C trespassing.
  • Class B Trespassing: Trespassing in someone’s home or shelter without permission can result in a 180-day jail sentence and a fine up to $2,000. 
  • Class A Trespassing: Trespassing with a deadly weapon is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. 
  • Felony Trespassing: Felony trespassing charges can range from a state jail felony to a higher-degree felony, depending on the nature of the crime associated with the trespass. For a state jail felony, the penalties include up to two years in jail and a fine up to $10,000. If the felony trespassing is linked to a more serious offense, or if the individual has a long criminal history, the charges could escalate to a third-degree felony or higher, resulting in anywhere from two years to life in prison, along with a fine up to $10,000.

Beyond jail time and fines, a criminal trespass conviction can make it harder to find a job, secure housing, or qualify for certain professional licenses. In some cases, it might even impact a person’s rights, like the ability to own a firearm.

What’s an Example of Trespassing on Land?

Imagine a hunter who, in pursuit of game, crosses over a fence clearly marked with “No Trespassing” signs into a privately owned field. The farmer has not given this person permission to be on the property and the signs are intended to inform everyone that entry is not allowed.

This action constitutes trespassing because the hunter entered the property without consent and there were clear indications that entry was prohibited. In Texas, this scenario could result in a criminal trespass charge, especially if the hunter understood they were entering private land but chose to do so anyway. 

What’s the Most Common Defense Against Trespass Charges?

The most common defense against trespass charges is consent to be on the property. This means the accused argues that they had permission from the property owner or someone authorized to give permission, to enter or remain on the property. Consent can be given in many forms, such as verbally, in writing, or even implied by the circumstances, like an open invitation to a public event at a private venue.

For this defense to work, the person needs to prove that they genuinely believed they had permission to be there. If they can show evidence of consent, such as a text message from the owner inviting them over, or witnesses who heard the owner giving permission, it can be a strong defense. 

What Does It Mean to Trespass on Someone’s Property?

To trespass on someone’s property means to enter or stay on that property without the owner’s permission. This can include walking onto someone’s land, going into a building, or even staying on the property after being asked to leave. It’s important that the property is clearly marked as private or that the person has been told they’re not allowed to be there. 

If someone goes onto property that’s open to the public, like a park or a store during business hours, it’s not considered trespassing unless that person has been specifically told they’re not welcome. Trespassing laws are in place to respect people’s rights to their own property and to keep unauthorized individuals from entering areas where they shouldn’t be.

Ben Michael

Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.

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