The Home Category The Home: family money matters

What is the typical sentence for criminal trespassing?

Laws on criminal trespass vary depending on the state where the crime took place. However, the definition and penalties are somewhat similar. An individual may be found guilty of this crime if he knowingly enters or stays illegally in a residence or premises. If he enters or remains unlawfully in a building or property that is fenced or enclosed, he is also risking arrest on the charge of criminal trespass. The key to criminal trespass is knowledge that the behaviour is illegal.

For example, an individual who is on private property and does not know it is privately owned is not committing criminal trespass. There must be an intent to commit this crime in order for it to be considered a crime.

Categories of Trespass

There are two basic categories of trespass--civil and criminal. The designation depends on the damage that is caused to the property and property owner. Civil trespass punishment usually involves paying a fine and restitution. Criminal trespass may result in more intense consequences depending on the harm caused and the seriousness of the crime.

Definition and Penalties

Criminal trespass in most states has three classifications: first, second and third degree. A person is charged with first-degree criminal trespass when he enters or knowingly remains illegally in a building. This crime is a felony and may result in imprisonment, restitution and probation. The amount of prison time or probation varies, depending on the state and the offender's criminal history. A person is charged with second-degree criminal trespass if she knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in another person's dwelling. This is a class A misdemeanour. It may result in jail time, though usually if it is a first offence, the individual is sentenced to probation. Third-degree criminal trespass involves an individual remaining in a structure or on property that is fenced or shown in some way to be intentionally keeping intruders out. This is a class B misdemeanour and usually carries a shorter jail time, or probation than class A misdemeanours.

Trespass vs. Burglary

If a first-class criminal trespass is committed, there is a chance that the offender may be charged with a burglary instead. Burglary laws also depend on the state where the crime occurs. Burglary laws are defined similarly to first class criminal trespass, i.e., when a person knowingly and illegally enters or remains in a place with intent to commit a crime in that location. Burglary may bring a longer sentence than first-degree criminal trespass.

Invite and Privilege

The definition of entering or remaining illegally occurs when an individual goes into a place where she is not invited or given privileges to do so. This includes public places if the person remains after hours.

Thus, she can enter legally and still be charged with a crime if she remains there when a building is closed for the day.

She may also be charged if she enters legally, but goes to a section of the property or building that is obviously closed to the public. Invite and privilege are required for any individual to enter any building or property.


An individual who enters property or remains on property that appears to be unused land has a defence against the charge of criminal trespass.

The land must be fenced or the owner must communicate in some conspicuous way the notice against trespassing. If this is not done, an individual has license and privilege to enter and remain.