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Criminal trespassing vs. civil trespassing

We've all seen the signs reading "NO TRESPASSING."

We do not, however, know the type of trespassing the signs reference. There are criminal forms of trespassing and civil forms of trespassing, and the punishments for each differ. If you face a civil claim, you stand to lose money. On the other hand, if you face a criminal charge, you stand to gain a criminal record.

Civil Trespass to Land

A person may enter another's land, cause a third party to enter another's land, or place an object on another's land. A person may also stay on another's land longer than he has been permitted to stay or fail to remove his possession from another's land at the agreed-upon time.

Proving Trespass to Land

In order for a landowner to prove that a person has trespassed on his land, he must show that the person entered the land on his own volition with the intent to make use of the land without the landowner's permission.

Civil Trespass to Chattels

A person intentionally interferes with another person's chattel, or movable personal property. The person could damage the chattel, make use of it, or move it to a different place without permission.

Proving Trespass to Chattels

In order to bring a successful trespass-to-chattels action, a person must have present possession or a right to possession of the chattel. The trespasser's act must interfere with the owner's right to possession.

The owner must prove that the trespasser had the intent to interfere with the chattel and did so through his own actions. The owner must also prove actual damages by showing that he was deprived of his chattel for a period of time.

Criminal Trespass

A person knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling or premises without the owner's consent, or the person enters or remains in a building or on real property without the owner's consent. The law in most states assumes that a person lacks the owner's consent to enter the owner's property when the owner or someone else has communicated this to the person, of when there is a fence around the property or a sign warning against trespassing that potential intruders can see.

Different states have different laws that will be used to determine whether or not a person has trespassed upon another's property. If in doubt, you should consult those laws to find out the definition of and punishments for the crime.

Defenses to Criminal Trespass

If charged with criminal trespassing, a person may defend himself by showing that: the conduct of the trespasser did not substantially obstruct the owner's use of her property; the property was open to the public for a specific purpose; or the trespasser left the property immediately after being told to do so.