Criminal Trespass

Pittsburgh Criminal Trespass Defense Attorney

Criminal trespass is often misunderstood by the general public.  Criminal trespass is not altogether complicated – a person commits criminal trespass by entering or remaining on property without authorization or privilege to do so.

If you’ve been charged with criminal trespass, you may be confused by the nature of the offense that has been brought against you.  In Pennsylvania, criminal trespass is broken down into four different – though related – forms, each with different elements and criminal penalties.

We encourage those who find themselves at the center of criminal trespass litigation or who have been accused of any other criminal offense, to contact a Pittsburgh criminal trespass defense attorney at McKinney Law for guidance.  We will take the time to explain how criminal trespass works and how the circumstances of your case may fit into that framework (or not).

The Four Forms of Criminal Trespass in Pennsylvania

Criminal trespass is defined in Section 3503 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.  There are four different forms of criminal trespass, though all require the intent to enter or remain on property without authority to do so.

Let’s briefly explore them, in turn.

Buildings and Occupied Structures

A person may be held liable if they enter, surreptitiously remain, or break into (by force, intimidation, etc.) any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.

Entering by subterfuge or remaining secretly is a third-degree felony offense punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment and up to $15,000 in fines.  Breaking into the building is a second-degree felony offense punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines.

Defiant Trespasser

A person may be held liable as a defiant trespasser if it was clearly communicated that they were not to enter the premises (through direct communication, signage, or other notification), but they entered or remained despite such notices.

Defiant trespass is prosecuted as a summary offense, which may involve up to three months in jail and up to a $300 fine.  If the defendant defied an order to leave that was personally communicated by an authorized individual (i.e., the owner), then it will be prosecuted as a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Simple Trespasser

A person may be held liable as a simple trespasser if they enter/remain without authorization for the purpose of:

  1. Threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises;
  2. Starting or causing to be started any fire upon the premises; or
  3. Defacing or damaging the premises.

Simple trespass is prosecuted as a summary offense.

Agricultural Trespasser

A person may be held liable as an agricultural trespasser if they enter or remain on:

  1. Any agricultural or other open lands when those lands are fenced or enclosed in a manner to exclude trespassers or confine domestic animals;
  2. Any agricultural or other open lands where an authorized individual has personally communicated an order not to enter, or an order to leave.

If the land was fenced or enclosed, the trespass will be prosecuted as a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year of imprisonment and up to $250 in fines.  If there was an order not to enter (or to leave) that was personally communicated by an authorized individual, the trespass will be prosecuted as a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years of imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines.

Common Defenses to Criminal Trespass

Authorization Given

In some criminal trespass cases, the defendant was actually authorized to enter or remain, but the facts may not initially be clear in this regard.  Further investigation may reveal that the defendant was permitted to enter – this is a complete defense to criminal trespass.

Emergency/Necessity

If you must enter and/or remain upon the victim’s land due to an emergency situation where you could be exposed to a significant risk of bodily injury or death, then you may not be held liable for criminal trespass.

For example, if you must stay on the victim’s land to avoid a mudslide that could kill you (if you left), the courts cannot impose criminal liability for your trespass – it was justified by the circumstances.

Mistaken Entry

Intent is fundamental to a criminal trespass offense.  If you did not intend to or knowingly enter/remain upon the premises without authorization, then you cannot be held liable for criminal trespass.

For example, if you are cutting hedges on a neighbor’s lawn, but you do so thinking that it’s actually a section of your property, you may not be held liable for criminal trespass.

Contact McKinney Law for a Free Consultation With a Skilled Pittsburgh Criminal Trespass Defense Attorney

Ready to speak to a qualified Pittsburgh criminal trespass defense attorney?

Call (412) 520-3301 or submit an online message through our website to schedule a free, confidential, and no-obligation consultation today.  We will evaluate your case and work with you to determine how best to proceed given the circumstances.