There are laws against criminal trespassing in Pennsylvania and penalties for the same. Understanding these laws and the penalties that you can incur from breaking them is very important. You don’t want to make a mistake and get onto the wrong side of the law. However, if you end up in that situation, you will want to make sure you have the right legal professionals on your side to help you. Knowledge of the penalties for breaking these laws may also be important when it comes to your defense and your future.

The information about these laws also matters for business owners and individuals concerned about whether someone is committing trespass on their property. They may want to take action, but only if the law is on their side. They may also want to know the specifics of what constitutes trespass so they can make adjustments such as security cameras and stronger locks. Here is what you need to know about criminal trespass laws and their penalties in the state of Pennsylvania.

What Does Criminal Trespass Mean?

The law says that anyone who isn’t licensed or privileged to do so must not gain entry or break into any building or occupied structure, or any portion of it. Breaking into means using force to get inside, such as breaking a lock, climbing in through an air vent or a pet door, threatening the person inside to gain entry, or any other means. In short, people mustn’t go where they aren’t allowed to or invited, or into any dwelling or structure that is private and doesn’t belong to them. If they do, they’re committing trespass.

A defiant trespasser is one who commits criminal trespass after there has been actual communication with or from the owner or occupant about not trespassing on the property. The trespasser may ignore the warnings or use language or motions that are threatening or terrorizing to gain entry to the property. That property can be anything from school grounds to an individual’s home, and a trespasser who is arrested will want to consult with a criminal defense attorney for help with their case.

How Serious Is Trespassing?

Most trespassing is considered a third-degree misdemeanor if the person trespassing defies the order to leave the premises given to them by the owner or anyone who’s authorized to request that they leave. If the trespassing involves school grounds, however, it is a first-degree misdemeanor. For trespassers who are not specifically told to leave, such as in instances when no one else is present at the time, the act of breaking into the space and trespassing is a summary offense.

Anyone who enters or remains in a building or other structure after being told to leave, or without the knowledge or consent of the owner or an authorized person, is subject to law enforcement action. A trespasser who remains in any place may be arrested for their actions, and those actions can be considered more serious if a notice against trespass is clearly posted on the property. Defacing or damaging the property is also common during trespassing and may incur additional legal penalties.

There are other aspects of trespassing that may make it more or less serious. A person who is on someone’s property when they are not supposed to be and ignores an order to leave will be in violation of the law, but they may not be subject to as many legal ramifications as someone who is terrorizing the owner. Both civil and criminal law can come into play, depending on the relationship between the trespasser and the property owner, as well as their interactions with one another.

What Kinds of Penalties Do Trespassers Receive?

In Pennsylvania, someone who commits the offense of trespassing on another’s property, or who acts as a defiant trespasser in any place, faces either misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on the details and specifics of the case. Someone who commits trespass and does not prevail in their defense may be found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, which has a punishment of up to five years in jail, along with a fine not to exceed $10,000.

A third-degree misdemeanor may mean fines of up to $2,000 and no more than one year in jail. Those who commit simple trespass, which is a summary offense, may see up to 90 days in jail, along with a fine that will not be more than $300. The real issue with trespassing comes in when a person adds other crimes onto it, such as threatening someone, DUI, drug issues, violation of a no-contact order, or vandalism. Those types of issues may take misdemeanor crimes into the range of simple felony crimes.

Owner communication is part of the detail that will be important for any trespass case. Additionally, information, notice display, and other factors will all matter. A trespasser who chooses to enter a property they believe to be abandoned, and where there are no notices posted, may not see the same penalties as a trespasser who forces entry to an occupied building through threats and intimidation. Trespassers who enter buildings where notices are posted may also face more severe penalties.

What Happens After a Trespassing Arrest?

Anyone who has been arrested for trespassing, regardless of the extenuating circumstances, will need the services of a criminal defense attorney. That can help them prepare their case, focus on the issues they may face as they move through that case, and address their defense in the hope of dismissing the case or reducing their penalties. In some cases, a trespasser will also try to claim that the owner of the property injured them or caused them harm in some way, and the owner also needs legal representation.

No matter which side a person is on, trespassing is a serious matter that will be addressed in the courts. It can create future ramifications for the trespasser and a deep sense of unease for the property owner where the trespassing occurred. No matter which side of the issue a person is on, working with legal professionals to understand rights and responsibilities can be a very important part of handling the case and moving forward with a resolution.

The severity of a trespassing incident can vary from a summary offense of simple trespass to something much more severe. Either way, the services of a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney are important for anyone who has been accused of and arrested for this type of crime.