Penal Code 555 PC – Trespass on Posted Property

Penal Code 555 PC – Trespass on Posted Property in California

Trespassing on someone else’s property, even if it seems harmless, can actually be a misdemeanor crime under California law. Specifically, Penal Code 555 PC makes it illegal to enter or remain on any land, real property, or structures without the owner’s consent if notice against trespass is given by:

  • Personal communication to the trespasser
  • A fencing or enclosure that is obviously designed to exclude intruders
  • Posting of signs reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders

This offense is known as criminal trespass in California, and it comes with penalties like up to 6 months in county jail. But the law also recognizes certain lawful reasons you may need to enter private property, such as under emergency or necessity. There are also defenses that could beat a criminal trespass charge.

Overview of California’s Laws on Trespassing

Trespassing laws exist to protect private property rights. As a general rule, owners can decide who gets to come onto their land and under what conditions. When someone enters property without permission, it infringes on the owner’s right to privacy, quiet enjoyment, and security of their home or business.

But not all trespassing is criminal. Under Penal Code 555 PC, California makes it a crime to:

  • Intentionally enter someone else’s property without permission
  • Refuse to leave private property after being told to leave by the owner

This offense applies to all types of real property like land, houses, apartments, condos, commercial buildings, and mobile homes. The law specifically covers:

  • Any house or enclosed area like a yard
  • The developed or undeveloped land around a home
  • Vacant and unoccupied structures
  • Any commercial property open to the public

Trespass also applies to hotel rooms, private events, and other places you need permission to lawfully enter. The owner, tenant, or other person with rightful possession of the property can make a citizen’s arrest if they witness a trespass taking place.

Penalties for Criminal Trespass in California

Penal Code 555 PC trespass is a misdemeanor offense in California. If convicted, you face:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A maximum $1,000 fine

In lieu of jail time, a judge has discretion to sentence you to misdemeanor probation or community service. But a trespass conviction will still show up on your criminal record. It can negatively impact your job prospects, professional licensing, and immigration status.

Legal Defenses to Trespass Charges

You can fight California trespass charges by raising any of the following legal defenses:

  • You had consent – The owner or agent gave you permission to enter the property. This consent can be express or implied based on the circumstances.
  • No proper notice against trespass – There were no signs, fences, or verbal warnings to put you on notice not to enter the property.
  • Necessity – You entered the property out of necessity to prevent greater harm or injury.
  • Self-defense – You entered to protect yourself from imminent harm or danger.
  • Mistake of fact – You had a reasonable but mistaken belief that you had consent or legal right to enter.
  • Unlawful arrest – The person who told you to leave lacked authority over the property.

With an experienced criminal defense lawyer’s help, many trespass cases can be reduced to infractions, dismissed, or won at trial. Prosecutors may also agree to pretrial diversion programs like community service and counseling.

Legal Entry onto Private Property

Certain lawful activities are exempt from trespass laws. As long as you don’t commit any other crimes, it’s not trespassing when you enter private property:

  • During an emergency to prevent serious harm to people or property
  • Under necessity, like seeking life-saving medical care or fleeing from danger
  • To carry out a statutory duty, such as a building inspection
  • As part of your employment duties
  • To serve court papers
  • With an easement or other property right
  • When the property is open to the public
  • To retrieve personal property

Police also have expanded rights to enter property while conducting an investigation or serving a warrant. But officers still need probable cause and cannot trespass without reason.

Related Offenses to Trespassing

Depending on the circumstances, trespassing may also involve other California property crimes such as:

  • Burglary – Penal Code 459 PC burglary applies to entering property with intent to steal or commit a felony.
  • Vandalism – Maliciously defacing, damaging, or destroying property under Penal Code 594 PC.
  • Squatting – Unlawful occupation of a vacant or unoccupied property under Penal Code 602 PC.

These related offenses carry harsher penalties than criminal trespass alone. Prosecutors often file multiple charges, so you should consult an attorney if facing trespass accusations.

Fighting Criminal Trespass Charges

Defendants have the right to vigorously contest trespass allegations at every stage of a case. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help by:

  • Investigating whether you had consent or lawful purpose to enter the property
  • Interviewing witnesses to support your side of the story
  • Gathering evidence to show you lacked notice against trespass
  • Negotiating with prosecutors to get charges reduced or dismissed
  • Filing motions to suppress evidence due to illegal searches
  • Presenting defenses at trial showing your legal entry
  • Advocating for probation and record clearing if convicted

Never try to talk your way out of trespass charges or explain yourself to police. Anything you say can be used against you. Politely decline to answer questions if contacted or arrested for trespass.

Find an Attorney for Help with Trespassing Charges

Being accused of criminal trespass can be stressful and scary. But experienced California criminal defense lawyers help clients fight back. They work to get charges reduced or dismissed so you can move on with your life.

To discuss your case in a free and confidential consultation, contact an attorney near you. With an aggressive defense, many trespassing cases can be resolved favorably.