Figuring out when a specific action constitutes criminal trespassing can sometimes be tricky. It is a bit more nuanced than what it may seem at first. Knowing which lines, you cannot cross regarding trespassing is crucial if you want to stay out of trouble.
Understanding the act of trespassing better also allows you to fight against false charges. You do not need to tremble at the mere accusation of trespassing if you know your rights.
Throughout this article, we will talk more about criminal trespassing in the state of Arizona. We will define what the offense is and its varying degrees. We will also discuss the potential penalties that may stem from a criminal trespassing charge.
Read on to learn more about this important aspect of Arizona law.
What Is Criminal Trespassing?
Most of us have a general idea of what trespassing is all about. When you are on someone else’s property without their permission, that is typically considered trespassing.
That is a good place to start when learning more about trespassing, but there is more nuance to the matter. For instance, there are different degrees of trespassing violations that people may be guilty of.
Let’s get into those different degrees of criminal trespassing in Arizona in the sections below.
Criminal Trespassing in the Third-Degree
To get started, let’s first take a closer look at criminal trespassing in the third-degree. This is the least severe of the trespassing offenses in the state of Arizona.
You must meet one of two conditions to be guilty of the offense.
First, trespassing in the third-degree may occur if you knowingly enter or stay on property after you were already told to leave. The request to leave may come from different sources.
The owner of the property or someone in charge of it can tell you to leave. You will also need to leave if a law enforcement officer acting on behalf of the property owner tells you to. If there is a sign indicating you should not be on the property, you should leave as soon as you see it.
Third-degree trespassing may also occur if you are on the right-of-way for railroad tracks, switching yards, or a railroad company’s rolling stock. Leave immediately if you are in that area.
All instances of trespassing in the third degree are considered class 3 misdemeanors.
Penalties for Criminal Trespassing in the Third-Degree
Penalties for a class 3 misdemeanor include jail time. You are looking at a maximum jail sentence of thirty days if you are found guilty of third-degree trespassing.
Jail time is not the only thing you need to worry about. Guilty parties may also pay a fine. The maximum fine for committing third-degree trespassing in Arizona is $500.
The fine is not the only monetary penalty you may receive. The owner of the property may also sue you if they believe that you damaged their property.
As you can see, the penalties that stem from trespassing in the third-degree can be serious. Now, keep in mind that this is still the least severe of the trespassing-related offenses.
Criminal Trespassing in the Second-Degree
Second-degree trespassing narrows its focus further. It hones-in on the matter of trespassing on non-residential properties.
Per Arizona law, knowingly entering or staying unlawfully inside any non-residential structure constitutes second-degree trespassing. You may also be deemed guilty of committing this offense if you enter or stay too long inside any fenced commercial yard.
To clarify, a fenced commercial yard refers to properties such as farms or the spaces outside warehouses where they keep items. This space may be surrounded by walls, barriers, or other structures.
You can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor if you commit second-degree trespassing.
Penalties for Criminal Trespassing in the Second-Degree
The penalties for class 2 misdemeanors ramp up significantly from their previous levels.
Jail time increases significantly for the guilty parties. Instead of spending a maximum of one month in prison, the defendant may spend the next four months locked up.
That is a big change in penalties that can set an individual back significantly for the foreseeable future.
Fines are baked into the penalties once again. This time around, the maximum fine can be $750.
Like before, anyone guilty of second-degree trespassing can also be sued by the owner of the property. If you damaged anything on that non-residential property, you could find yourself on the hook for numerous hefty payments.
Criminal Trespassing in the First-Degree – The Misdemeanors
Finally, we have first-degree trespassing violations. First-degree trespassing violations account for more potential crimes.
Notably, some first-degree trespassing violations are considered misdemeanors while others are not. Let’s talk about the misdemeanors first.
You can be guilty of first-degree trespassing in Arizona if you knowingly enter and/or refuse to leave a fenced residential yard. This refers to the back and front yards of residential homes.
Individuals can also be charged with criminal trespassing in the first-degree while they are in a residential yard that is not fenced. That happens if the individual in question looks into the residential structure.
Peeping like that is considered as infringing on the property owner’s right to privacy. This form of trespassing is not always considered a sex crime, but it could become that depending on certain circumstances.
Unlawfully entering a property “subject to a valid mineral claim or lease with the intent to hold, work, take or explore for minerals on the claim or lease” is similarly regarded as a first-degree trespassing violation.
Penalties for Criminal Trespassing in the First-Degree for the Misdemeanor Offenses
All the first-degree trespassing violations that we mentioned in the section above are considered class 1 misdemeanors. Class 1 misdemeanors carry the heaviest penalties among all the misdemeanor violations.
You can tell that right away by the amount of jail time a guilty party could potentially serve. The maximum jail sentence goes from four months to six.
The increase in the maximum potential fine is also significant. The court may order you to pay as much as $2,500 for the crime you committed.
Once again, we cannot forget about the possibility that you may be sued by the property owner if you are convicted of criminal trespassing in the first degree.
Class 1 misdemeanors carry some substantial penalties. Steer clear of them by heeding Arizona’s trespassing laws.
Criminal Trespassing in the First-Degree – The Felonies
Let’s continue talking about criminal trespassing in the first-degree by focusing on the violations that qualify as felonies.
If you enter someone’s home and/or refuse to leave someone’s home, they can charge you with trespassing. Simply put, you should not be in another person’s home unless you have permission to be there.
Individuals who enter another person’s property and then proceed to vandalize a religious symbol or another form of religious property without permission can also receive a trespassing charge.
Both of those violations are regarded as class 6 felonies.
The law can charge anyone who unlawfully enters or stays inside a critical public service facility with criminal trespassing.
The term “critical public service facility” accounts for a wide variety of structures.
Structures used for public transportation and distributing and storing various public utilities are considered critical public service facilities. Buildings used by law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency service providers also qualify.
Unlawfully entering or staying inside a critical public service facility and you could find yourself receiving a class 5 felony.
Penalties for Criminal Trespassing in the First-Degree for the Felony Offenses
Being guilty of committing a class 6 felony means that you could go to prison for a long time.
The maximum prison sentence for a person who commits a class 6 felony is eighteen months. The minimum prison sentence is still quite lengthy at six months.
Criminals charged with a class 5 felony are looking at even more prison time.
The minimum prison sentence for those individuals goes up to nine months. Meanwhile, the maximum sentence for offenders is two years in prison.
Fines remain among the penalties that offenders may face. For a felony offense, the upper limit for the fine assessed is up to $150,000.
Paying a potential fine of $150,000 is tough enough. Consider how difficult paying off that fine will be if the property owner also sues you.
What Are Potential Defenses against Criminal Trespassing Charges?
You can see how devastating the penalties associated with criminal trespassing are. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being falsely charged with criminal trespassing, fighting hard against those accusations is a must.
Partnering with an experienced lawyer is necessary for that scenario. Your lawyer may also look to use the defenses detailed below as they fight back against the false trespassing charges that have been put forth.
There Was No Intent to Trespass
One of the most common defenses used in trespassing cases is to say that the defendant had no intent to trespass upon another person’s property. The defense attorney may argue that their client had no idea that they were even intruding upon a privately owned property or piece of land.
That kind of incident can happen if the property in question is often unsupervised. The property owner may only be relying on a “no trespassing” sign to keep unwelcome visitors away.
The problem with only using a “no trespassing” sign is that it may be positioned in the wrong spot. They must place them by the entrances to the property itself. If they are not located there, someone entering the property can easily miss them.
A person may be trespassing on private property without even being aware that they are doing so. It sounds like an excuse, but it is something that can happen. Use it as your defense if it applies in your case.
You Received Permission to Be on the Property
Misunderstandings can get out of hand in a hurry. A simple lack of communication can lead to tempers flaring and calling the police.
For example, a friend may have invited you to hang out at their house, but they said they would be late, so you should let yourself in. Following their instructions, you decide to enter the home only to meet with the startled expression of one of its residents.
In all that confusion, the resident of the home may have called the police to report you as a trespasser or perhaps even an intruder. Of course, that is not the case.
You had permission to enter the property, and you even have evidence of it. Disproving the trespassing charges put forth against you is easy when you have that evidence.
There may not even be a need to take things to court as long as you can prove that the owner of the property invited you over.
The Person Who Asked You to Leave Is Not the Owner of the Property
To avoid a trespassing charge, you should leave if the owner of the property tells you to. There is no need to overstay your welcome unless you want to get in trouble.
But what should you do if someone other than the owner of the property is asking you to leave? That can be a bit tricky.
If you do have permission to be on the property from the owner, you have no reason to leave. The person asking you to leave may have no authority to order you to do anything like that. To be safe, double-check with the owner of the property so you can rest assured that you are not trespassing.
Errors Made by Law Enforcement
Another common defense used in many cases is to point out that law enforcement committed errors that led to violating your constitutional rights. Police officers can make mistakes while in the middle of collecting evidence or arresting you. If they committed violations themselves, the charges against you may not stick.
Criminal trespassing charges carry serious penalties. Avoid those penalties by fighting back against the false accusations being lobbed at you. Contact us at the Schill Law Group and we will guide you through that legal ordeal.