In this final presentation of a three part series of videos, criminal defense attorney George Parnham discusses criminal trespass laws as well as the implications of burglary or criminal trespass charges in a situation such as divorce, in which the defendant maintains a community property interest.
Although similar, burglary and criminal trespass are two separate crimes in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code § 30.05, the definition of criminal trespass is more complex than simply being on someone else’s property. To begin with, the law defines property as including "...residential land, agricultural land, a recreational vehicle park, a building, or an aircraft or other vehicle".
This means that criminal trespass can encompass all sorts of public and privately owned property intended for different types of use. People can be convicted of criminal trespass when they unlawfully cross residential property, commercial property, agricultural property, forest land, and even government property. It is also unlawful to trespass in an area with an oil refinery, chemical manufacturing facility, water treatment plant or an electrical power generating facility.
Unlike the charges for burglary, criminal trespass charges do not require any intent of theft or felony. Also, although you can be charged of burglary simply by having any part of your body on the property (i.e., holding a flashlight through a window or door in order to survey the contents of a room), criminal trespass requires that your entire body be on the property.
In order for someone to be convicted of criminal trespass, they must have either been given notice that entry to a property is forbidden, or they must have been told to leave the property and then either failed to leave or returned to the property (still without consent). Notice can be given in several ways; it can be an oral or written communication by the owner or someone acting for the owner, it can be a fence or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders or to contain livestock, or it can be in the form of sign posted in a location reasonably likely to be noticed.
On forested or agricultural property, notice can be in the form of readily visible purple paint marks of proper size and placement on trees or posts spaced no more than 100 feet apart on forest land or 1,000 feet apart on non-forest land. Notice can also simply be the visible presence of any crop grown for human consumption that is under cultivation, in the process of being harvested, or marketable if harvested at the time of entry.
Criminal trespass is normally a Class B misdemeanor with a fine up to $2,000 and a jail term up to 180 days. If the trespass is on agricultural land, and the trespasser is apprehended within 100 feet of the boundary of the land, the offense is a Class C misdemeanor with a fine up to $500. Agricultural land is broadly defined and includes land suitable for growing plants (for food, feed, fiber, seed, etc.) or trees or for keeping farm or ranch animals. However, under certain conditions including if one has a deadly weapon on or about one’s person the offense is a Class A misdemeanor with a fine up to $4,000 and a jail term up to one year.