You trespass when you enter another person’s property without his/her express permission. This violation is a misdemeanor. However, if you threaten to physically injure someone when you enter his/her premises without his/her permission, you commit a more serious offense. These actions amount to aggravated trespass, a violation of PC 601.
Aggravated trespass is a wobbler offense, meaning you risk misdemeanor or felony penalties if found guilty. Convictions are punishable by significant jail time and fines. Hiring a credible attorney increases your chances of successfully fighting the charges to secure reduced penalties, if not a dismissal. Count on the Darwish Law team to assist you if you or a loved one is charged with aggravated trespass in Santa Ana, CA.
Aggravated Trespass Under California Law
Under Penal Code 601, it is an offense to threaten to inflict physical injury on another and then enter his/her workplace or home without his/her permission. Additionally, it is a violation of this statute if you enter premises contiguous to the threatened individual’s property, provided you threaten the victim with bodily harm.
A jury will return a guilty verdict if satisfied that the prosecution has proven the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You threatened another individual with serious bodily injury
- You issued the threats with the intention to cause the victim to reasonably fear for his/her safety or that of their immediate family and either
- You unlawfully entered the victim’s residence within 30 days of issuing the threat without a lawful reason and with the intent to carry out the threat, OR
- You illegally entered the victim’s workplace within 30 days of issuing the threat, knowing that the premises you entered is the victim’s workplace and, while on the premises, tried to locate the individual intending to carry out the threat.
This statute does not require prosecutors to show you willfully acted to establish a PC 601 violation occurred. Further, it is not a violation of PC 601 if the premises you are accused of trespassing are in your residence, workplace, or real property.
Let us look at the elements in detail.
a) Credible Threat
A threat is deemed credible if it causes the victim, the target of the threat, to reasonably fear for his/her safety or that of their immediate family. Additionally, the threat must be one you can carry out. Credible threats can be made in writing, orally, or electronically.
The threat can also be implied through an established pattern of conduct or a combination of statements.
b) Serious Bodily Injury
Serious bodily injury, in law, refers to severe impairment of an individual’s physical condition. The list of injuries that meet this threshold includes:
- Bone fractures
- Wounds that require extensive suturing
- Loss of consciousness
- Impairment of an organ’s or bodily function
- Serious disfigurement
c) Reasonable Fear
Courts consider a set of facts to determine whether you intend to cause the victim to reasonably fear for his/her life or that of his/her immediate family. They include the following:
- Your conduct
- The verbal message directed to the victim
- The victim’s reaction to the threat
- Any witnesses to the incident
- Your relationship with the victim
- Any previous encounters with the victim
d) Immediate Family
Under the law, immediate family memes include:
- Nuclear family members — Spouse, children, and parents
- Extended family members — Grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews, or
- Individuals who frequently visit or live on the premises
Best Defenses to Challenge Aggravated Trespass Charges
You can beat aggravated trespass charges with the appropriate defense. A criminal defense attorney will evaluate the facts of the case and determine the ideal defense strategy, aiming to have the charges reduced, if not dismissed altogether.
The common defenses applicable in aggravated trespass cases are:
You Did Not Issue a Credible Threat
A threat is only credible if intent and the present ability to carry out the threat are evident enough to cause the victim to fear for his/her life or that of their loved ones. The threat should potentially cause significant bodily injury or death if actualized.
For example, Jim threatens to kill Amy. At the time of issuing the threat, Jim was holding a pipe wrench. In this case, the danger to Amy’s life is credible since Jim held a pipe wrench, which he could have used to carry out the threat.
Prosecutors bear the burden of proving a threat to be credible.
While using this defense, attorneys will demonstrate to the court that you lacked the present ability to carry out the threat or that you were joking and the alleged victim mistook your words as a threat to his/her life or that of their loved ones.
You Had No Intention of Causing Fear
Under this defense, you acknowledge issuing the message or communication to the alleged victim, which he/she interpreted as a threat. However, you could argue that you did not intend for your words to cause fear.
This defense strategy is applicable when defendants engage in threatening conversations aiming for fun with third parties or acting on a dare from friends. Prosecutors could charge you with a lesser charge but not an aggravated battery.
The Lack of an Intention to Carry Out the Threat
You are guilty of aggravated trespass for accessing the target’s residence, office space, or real property to carry out the threat. Besides the present ability to actualize the threat, prosecutors must show that you took a direct step other than accessing the alleged victim’s premises.
Accessing the victim’s premises is open to interpretation. Whereas the prosecution would use this to convince the jury of an intent to carry out the threat, it is a possibility you accessed the building to apologize for your initial remarks. This creates reasonable doubt, challenging the prosecution’s case to your advantage.
You Own the Property
In some cases, ownership of the premises or real property in an aggravated trespass case is not immediately apparent. For the jury to find you guilty of aggravated trespass, the property in the case should belong to another.
Consider a situation where a couple is separated. The wife lives with the children on the property, but the husband does not. The husband, on one occasion, accessed the house. He engages the wife in a conversation that turns into an argument. In the heat of the moment, the husband threatens the wife. The wife filed charges, claiming that her husband was trespassing.
Since the two are separated but not divorced, the property could be shared. That means the husband and wife co-own the property. However, while accusing the husband, the wife could claim property ownership. But with evidence of title ownership and without evidence showing the couple is divorced, the case can be dismissed since it does not meet PC 601’s threshold of another individual’s property.
You Had Permission
Recall that one of the elements to be established by the prosecution is that you illegally entered the victim’s premises, real property, or establishment. Illegal entry under PC 601 is entering without permission. Therefore, if you had permission to access the premises, real property, or establishment, you are not guilty of aggravated trespass.
Penalties Upon Conviction for Aggravated Trespass
Aggravated trespass is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors can elect to pursue misdemeanor or felony violation charges depending on the facts of the case. They also consider the defendant’s criminal history, which is likely to inform their decision to settle on felony charges.
Misdemeanor convictions are punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine not exceeding $2,000, or both. Alternatively, the judge could issue misdemeanor or summary probation terms as an alternative to jail time.
If found guilty on felony charges, you will likely spend up to three years in jail, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both. Felony or formal probation is also a possible option instead of incarceration.
Impact of an Aggravated Trespass Conviction on Immigration Status and Gun Rights
Convictions for PC 601 violations often have adverse consequences on immigration status for non-citizens and take away gun rights, as detailed below.
Aggravated trespass is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Offenses categorized as CIMT involve depraved conduct a reasonable individual would deem shocking, involve dishonesty, or are vile.
Threatening another with serious bodily harm and causing the victim to be reasonably afraid meets this threshold.
A conviction for non-citizens means they will be deported to their country of origin and denied re-entry to the U.S. This also means they are ineligible candidates for a green card.
As for gun rights, PC 29800 makes it an offense for felons to own a gun. The statute further prohibits convicted felony offenders from purchasing, possessing, or receiving firearms. Any violation of PC 29800’s provisions will result in gun violation charges, whose conviction results in up to three years in prison.
Expunging an Aggravated Trespass Charge
The law allows you to have your conviction struck off your record to release you from the adverse consequences of a sentence. You do not have to disclose your conviction to a potential employer during job applications.
Penal Code 1203.4 allows for individuals convicted of misdemeanor or felony violations to apply for an expungement of their records provided that:
- You completed your probation, or
- You completed your jail sentence
- You are not presently charged with a crime or on probation for one. Additionally, you must not be serving a sentence for any crime.
Offenses Related to this Statute
If there is insufficient evidence to secure a conviction at trial, prosecutors will pursue two specific charges. Additionally, since the two offenses are possible, you could be required to plead guilty in a plea bargain agreement in exchange for a reduced sentence.
However, only agree to a plea bargain if advised by your attorney to do so.
The offenses are:
- Trespass — A crime under Penal Code 602
- Criminal threats — A crime under Penal Code 422
Let us look at each offense in detail.
Entering another person’s property and remaining there without their permission to do so is a crime under Penal Code 602.
The D.A. must prove the following to be true to secure a guilty verdict.
- You deliberately entered, occupied, or remained in a building, land, an enclosed area, or other property.
- You did so without the owner’s, agent’s, or other authorized individual’s consent or with the specific intent of interfering with the business or obstructing the property.
- You interfered with another person’s rights.
Several acts meet PC 602’s definition of trespass. Thus, engaging in the following actions could result in prosecution for trespass.
- Entering and occupying property belonging to another without his/her permission
- Entering another person’s property with the intention to damage said property.
- Refusing to vacate someone else’s property after being required to do so
- Refusing screening at the courthouse or airport
- Taking dirt, soil, or stones from another person’s property without his/her permission
- Refusing to leave a motel and declining to pay
- Accessing closed and restricted land
PC 602 lists several other actions it deems as trespass.
Penalties for Trespassing
Prosecutors can choose to pursue infractions, misdemeanors, or felony charges depending on the facts of your case and your criminal record.
Trespass becomes an infraction if:
- You deliberately entered another individual’s land without permission, and
- The land was closed off by a fence or had a “no trespassing” sign posted
A conviction results in a $75 fine and $250 for a first and second offense, respectively, for trespass on the same land.
Misdemeanor violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.
Felony trespass is aggravated trespass. The offense is a wobbler with penalties, as outlined above.
b) Criminal Threats
It is a crime to threaten to inflict great bodily harm or cause death to cause a victim to reasonably fear for their life or that of their family. You will violate PC 422 if you threaten to kill or harm another individual, threats the victim considers reasonable and sustained.
A jury will only find you guilty if satisfied prosecutors have proven the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You willfully threatened to kill or inflict great bodily injury to the victim illegally
- You communicated the threats in writing, electronically, or orally
- You intended the victim to understand your communication as a threat
- The threat was clear, unconditional, immediate, and specific. Further, it communicated a serious intention that the threat would be actualized
- The threat caused the victim to fear for their safety and that of his/her immediate family, and
- The victim’s fear was reasonable, given the circumstances
You would face prosecution under PC 422 even if you did not directly communicate the threat to the victim but through a third party. Additionally, the injury threshold is “great bodily harm." These injuries include concussions, gunshot wounds, contusions, broken bones, and second-degree burns.
Fear is pivotal in criminal threat cases. Juries require that the fear be actual, reasonable, and sustained for you to be found guilty under PC 422.
Actual fear is established in the alleged victim's actions after the defendant issued the threats. The fear was not actual if the alleged victim disregarded the threats and walked away.
The victim’s disregard is enough to have the charges dropped.
However, the fear was real if the victim went into hiding, armed himself/herself, or sought security. The next step in the case is to determine whether the fear was reasonable.
Fear is reasonable if the victim believes it is so. You do not need to have a present ability to carry out the threat for the threat to meet the reasonable threshold. All that is required is that the victim believes the danger is imminent.
Therefore, a judge would dismiss the charges if the victim believed the fear to be silly or unreasonable.
Sustained fear is a question of fact to be determined in each case. Courts examine the victim’s state of mind, extending beyond what is momentary, transitory, or fleeting. However, there is no set time frame.
Note: The threshold in PC 422 violation cases is whether the victim reasonably feared for his/her life or his/her family’s safety. Whether you intend to carry out the threat or not is irrelevant. Therefore, you can face prosecution for issuing empty or conditional threats.
Additionally, you face charges for a threat issued to a single individual or a single threat issued for a particular objective.
Penalties for Criminal Threats
PC 422 violations are wobbler offenses.
Misdemeanor violations are punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Felonies, on the other hand, are punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Engage a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
An attorney will help negotiate for your charges to be reduced in a plea bargain negotiation or have your charges dismissed. Should the case proceed to trial, the attorney will settle on a defense strategy likely to result in the best legal outcome. Attorneys at Darwish Law are familiar with California's criminal justice system. The experience will be invaluable in your case. For a case evaluation, call us at 714-887-4810 if you or a loved one faces aggravated trespass charges in Santa Ana.