In Texas, the offense of criminal trespass, as outlined in Texas Penal Code 30.05, can lead to jail time and long-term consequences that can seriously impact your future.
As such, if you are charged with this crime, you need to start thinking about how you will defend yourself.
For many people in this position, it is their first offense, and it can be intimidating to be arrested, charged, and see your case progressing through the justice system in Texas. The support and guidance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations and keep things in perspective.
Criminal defense lawyer Andrew Williams has vast experience in defending this type of crime within the Texas criminal justice system. He has helped countless defendants have their cases dismissed, charges reduced, or be acquitted at trial.
What is Texas Penal Code 30.05?
Criminal trespass laws in Texas are harsh. Texas Penal Code 30.05 outlines the crime as follows:
“A person commits an offense if the person enters or remains on or in property of another, including residential land, agricultural land, a recreational vehicle park, a building, a general residential operation operating as a residential treatment center, or an aircraft or other vehicle, without effective consent and the person:
(1) had noticed that the entry was forbidden; or
(2) received notice to depart but failed to do so.”
Criminal trespassing, therefore, is essentially the act of knowingly entering private property without the consent of the owner. As you can see, it covers many types of properties.
You don’t need to drive very far in Texas to see trespass notices hung to prevent people from entering private properties.
Trespass notices can be given in several ways by property owners. Most commonly, a sign is posted on the edge of the property. You may have seen “No Hunting or Trespassing” signs on large acreage properties. These signs count as “reasonable notice.”
Strangely for some people, visible marks of purple paint on fence posts, gates, trees, and signs also count as notice under Texas law.
Farmers in Texas are automatically protected too. The presence of crops or cultivated fields is considered notice that trespassing is prohibited.
Notice to depart
Under Texas Penal Code 30.05, if a notice to depart the premises is given by the property owner and the person still does not leave, criminal trespass laws may apply.
The notice to vacate may be delivered in writing or, more commonly, verbally by the property owner. If the person then leaves, no trespassing crime is technically committed. If they remain, the property owner can call the police to arrest the individual.
Even if a person is initially on a property legally (such as a party invitee) but the right to remain on the property is revoked (i.e., the owner asks them to leave), a charge of criminal trespass can follow.
What is the difference between criminal trespass and burglary?
Burglary and criminal trespass are both dealt with under Texas Penal Code section 30.
Of the two, criminal trespass is considered the lesser crime. For a charge of burglary, there needs to be an intent to commit another crime in addition to the illegal entry of a property.
So, for instance, if a person was found trespassing with the intent to commit a theft or assault, the crime could be charged as burglary whether or not that crime was carried out.
What are the penalties for criminal trespass in Texas?
If you are charged under criminal trespass laws in Texas, you could face jail time. It is usually charged as a Class B misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $2,000 or 180 days in jail.
However, the laws include different classifications of criminal trespass depending on where the incident took place and what the circumstances were.
For instance, trespassing on farmland or being on residential land and within 100 feet of a protected freshwater area are both considered Class C misdemeanors. The penalty for this is usually up to a $500 fine.
On the other hand, if there are additional elements that make the case more serious, the crime may be upgraded. If the defendant was carrying a gun or other deadly weapon, for instance, criminal trespass is automatically considered a Class A misdemeanor with a potential $4,000 fine and/or a year in county jail.
If the trespass occurred in a habitation or a shelter center, on a Superfund site, or in or on a critical infrastructure facility, it can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor even without the presence of a deadly weapon.
If it is your first offense and the circumstances of the incident were not too serious, Andrew Williams’s experience in these matters should be enough to ensure that you face no time behind bars.
How can a defense attorney help you?
You may think that because you wandered onto land that you knew was private or breached a fence or wall to gain access to a property that you should plead guilty and face the consequences.
Before you do that, consider the long-term consequences for your future. Even if you are fortunate enough to escape jail time, the lifelong blemish on your criminal record can make things difficult with employment, housing, travel, immigration (if applicable), and other important matters.
There is nearly always a viable defense available. Andrew Williams will pore over the evidence and seek weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. Sometimes, the case is dismissed due to weak evidence. Other times, we can get the charge reduced to an infraction or lower-level misdemeanor by liaising with the prosecution.
If we need to defend you at trial, we will do so aggressively. For instance, we may be able to argue that the structure demarcating the property was compromised, and therefore you were not aware that you were trespassing. The defendant must be aware that entry to the property was prohibited from being convicted of criminal trespass in Texas.
Depending on circumstances, we may also be able to argue that the trespass occurred in a “non-threatening” part of the property and therefore posed little risk to the occupants – which may be justification for a lesser charge or reduced sentence.
Often, reducing a criminal trespass charge to an infraction is considered a good outcome. While you may still face some court penalties, an infraction does not appear on your permanent record.
Need help with a criminal trespass charge in Texas?
If you have been arrested and charged with criminal trespass in Texas – even if you feel that you are completely innocent – do not take any chances.
At the Law Office of Andrew Williams, we know how to protect your rights and reduce the potential consequences of the charge.