In California, criminal trespassing has and will always be a severe offense. Trespassing occurs when one person enters another person’s property without the owner’s permission or the right to. However, criminal trespassing involves more than your being where you are not supposed to be. It could be linked to many other things, including playing loud music and placing intrusive posters on another person’s door.

Aggravated trespass is far more severe than criminal trespass, attracting severe penalties that may include lengthy prison terms and hefty penalties. Expert legal help is needed in distinguishing between ordinary criminal trespass that attracts less severe penalties and aggravated trespass. Therefore, if you face aggravated trespass changes, get in touch with the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. Hiring our team will significantly improve your chances at the best possible outcome.

Legal Definition of California Aggravated Trespass

Trespassing can easily pass out as an ordinary thing to do, with no grave consequences to the offender. However, there are apparent laws against trespassing, especially aggravated trespassing. While a typical offense of going to another individual’s property without their permission is charged as a misdemeanor, there are instances in which the court will try the same crime or a similar act as a felony. It is a case of trespass in cases in which you know that another person will not let you in or allow you close to them but still show up on their property. However, when trespassing involves threats and fear of suffering bodily injury, it becomes a severe criminal offense.

California law against aggravated trespassing is under Section 601 of the state’s Penal Code. According to this law, the definition of aggravated trespassing is threatening another person with physical injury, then entering their home or workplace without their permission. The offense goes beyond an ordinary case of trespassing, and so the court will treat it with the seriousness it deserves. A person found guilty of aggravated trespassing is no longer considered a minor offender but a felon. Thus, he/she will be incarcerated for several years and fined heavily, among other penalties.

To better understand the legal definition of aggravated trespass, let us go through the elements of this offense. There are facts of this case that a prosecutor will be required to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt for the accused to be found guilty. They are:

  • The offender made a believable/credible threat of causing physical harm to another individual.
  • That he/she made that threat with an intent of putting that person in reasonable/real fear for personal safety, or the wellbeing of a close family member
  • That not more than 30 days after making a credible threat, the offender illegally entered the person’s home or workplace without their permission, planning to carry out their threat.
  • That the offender was well aware that the place he/she illegally entered was the home or business premises of the person he/she had threatened. That he/she even tried to track down the victim without a legal purpose

It is worth noting that the court will not require the prosecutor to prove that the offender acted willfully to prove that he/she indeed committed an aggravated trespassing offense. Again, the offender may not be guilty if he/she entered his/her own home, workplace, or real property after issuing out the threat. It has to be the residence, workplace, or real property of their victim.

Let us go through each element to understand better how the prosecutor charges this offense.

Credible Threat

Section 601 of the California Penal Code requires that the offender must have made a credible threat for a person to be prosecuted under this law. A credible threat will be:

  • One that makes the other person suffer real fear for personal safety and/or safety of their close family
  • One that makes the defendant appear capable of carrying it out

A credible threat is not just one that is made orally. A person can threaten another electronically or in writing. Credible threats could be implied by the defendant’s behavior pattern or a mix of both the conduct and statements issued.

A Threat to Cause Serious Physical/Bodily Injury

A person will only face charges under this law if the threat they made was to cause serious physical injury to another individual or the person’s immediate family. A severe bodily injury, in this case, means a severe impairment to the physical condition of the person receiving the threats. A person who has suffered severe physical harm could, for instance, have suffered a concussion, lost their consciousness, fractured their bones, or lost a body organ or its functionality. They, too, could have suffered severe wounds requiring extensive stitching or even a severe disfigurement.

Reasonable Fear

After receiving a credible threat, the law requires the other person to have suffered reasonable fear. In this case, reasonable fear means that the victim truly believed that the defendant could cause him/her or his/her immediate family physical injury. The challenge here is in proving that, indeed, the defendant planned to cause the victim reasonable fear. To decide on this, the court will have to look into the case’s circumstances and facts exceptionally.

To make the right judgment on the matter, the court will consider the following:

  • Verbal messages that the defendant sent or has been sending the victim
  • His/her conduct
  • Whether there was someone else present at the time the offender was issuing the threats, other than the defendant and the victim
  • How the victim reacted to the threats
  • The relationship, if any, between the victim and the defendant.
  • Whether or not the two had had any encounters in the past

Safety for Self or Close Family Member

Lastly, a person is guilty of aggravated trespassing if they caused another person to fear their safety or that of their close family member. Immediate family members, as used in this law, could mean any of the following:

  • A parent, child, or spouse
  • Grandparents, grandchildren, sister, brother, or anyone else related to them by marriage or blood.
  • A person who lives in or visits their household regularly

If you face charges for aggravated trespass, you may need the help of an experienced criminal attorney. He/she will help you understand whether or not your charges satisfy all those requirements and what your options are. Remember, a competent attorney can compel the court to drop or reduce your charges. This way, you will avoid facing the harsh penalties associated with a felony conviction.

Punishments for a Conviction of California Aggravated Trespass

Generally, a violation against Section 601 of the California Penal Code is a wobbler. Thus, the prosecutor could either charge the offender with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor will base his/her decision on the crime’s facts and the offender’s criminal history.

If the court convicts you of misdemeanor aggravated trespass, the punishments you are likely to receive include:

  • Misdemeanor/summary probation
  • Incarceration for not more than one year
  • Fines of not exceeding $2,000

Again, if you receive a felony sentence, the most likely penalties the court will give you include:

  • Felony/formal probation
  • At most, three years behind bars.
  • Fines of not exceeding $10,000

Unfortunately, the above penalties are not the only consequences the accused might receive after conviction. Aggravated trespass in California is an offense carrying several other adverse outcomes. That is why you need to fight your charges with an attorney’s help to avoid a conviction or have the charges reduced.

Effects on Immigration Status

Aggravated trespass is, for instance, a crime with serious immigration consequences. If you are convicted, then your immigration status will be affected. Under the country’s immigration laws, these criminal convictions might cause a non-citizen to be deported from the country. A conviction in your record will also affect your chances of being admitted into the country.

In California, there are those crimes categorized as inadmissible or deportable. They include the following:

  • Crimes of moral turpitude
  • Offenses connected to the use or abuse of controlled drugs
  • Aggravated felonies
  • Crimes connected to the use of firearms
  • Domestic violence offenses

If the court studies your case’s details and gives you an aggravated felony conviction, the conviction will fall under the above list of aggravated felonies. If that happens and you are an immigrant, you can be sure that it will severely affect your status.

Effects on Gun Rights

Similarly, aggravated trespass is an offense that may affect your gun rights. It all depends on whether or not the court gives you a felony or misdemeanor conviction.

The list of people who are not allowed by law to acquire or possess a gun in California include:

  • People with a felony charge on their records from anywhere in the country
  • Those who are addicted to narcotics
  • People with more than one conviction under the state’s Penal Code Section 417, which is the law against brandishing a gun
  • Individuals who have suffered a mental illness
  • People with a sentence for particular misdemeanors, for instance, corporal injury to a partner, as under California Penal Code Section 273.5.
  • Minors below 18. Note that persons below 21 are not allowed to purchase a weapon in California

Thus, if a person receives a felony sentence for aggravated trespass, the penalty could affect their gun rights. If they already had a weapon, they are required by law to surrender it.

Expungement for California Penal Code 601 Conviction

If you face charges for aggravated trespassing in California, your main aim should be to fight for the charges to be dropped or reduced. However, if this does not work, there is a need to know whether you will have a chance to remove your conviction from your criminal record permanently. It will ensure that the sentence does not affect your chances of securing employment in the future.

The good news is that a person convicted of this offense is allowed by California law to apply for this record’s expungement from their criminal history. However, he/she must have completed all the conditions issued by the court when the court sent them on probation.

California’s expungement law is under the state’s Penal Code 1203.4. Expungement releases the person from all consequences that may arise out of the sentence in the future. Once your criminal record is expunged, it will not be accessible by members of the public. You will also not be required to disclose your conviction to potential employers. 

However, a court can only expunge a person’s misdemeanor or felony conviction from their record if they have completed probation. You are also a candidate for expungement if you are not charged with another criminal offense, are not on probation, and do not serve a term for another crime.

Once the offender finishes the court-ordered probation or serves the full jail term, they may begin the expungement process.

Possible Legal Defenses for Charges of California Aggravated Trespass

If you face charges for California aggravated trespass, you do not have to be convicted. The law allows you to hire the best and most competent criminal defense lawyer to help with your case. This move helps you avoid the harsh penalties, and the unpleasant consequences explained above. There are several defense strategies an experienced attorney can use to aggressively counter your charges and convince the court to either reduce or drop your charges. These strategies include:

The Threat Wasn’t Credible

Remember that the threat issued must be credible enough to trigger fear of harm in the person being threatened. If the threat was not reasonable, then the defendant will not be convicted and could be acquitted of his/her charges. Your attorney can take advantage of this fact to convince the court that even though you issued out a threat, it was not severe or credible. You may have jokingly threatened the person without meaning to accomplish the threat.

The jury will not just accept the defense arguments without looking at your case’s facts to ascertain whether the threat could have been credible. If there is a chance that the threats weren’t severe and that the offender did not have the means to accomplish the threat, the court will have no choice but to drop the charges.

There Was No Intent To Cause Fear

Intent to cause fear is among the elements of this crime, which must be satisfied for the offender to be found guilty. If there is a way to prove that you did not have intentions of causing the other person to fear for their life or their loved one, you may be acquitted of your charges. For example, if a person threatens another jokingly, their intention is never to cause the other person to fear. If that was the case, then you won’t be guilty of aggravated trespass.

However, you need a smart approach to convince the jury that you didn’t want to cause the person to fear even if you issued a threat. A competent criminal lawyer will weaken the prosecutor’s argument to demonstrate to the court that the defendant’s intentions may not have been as presented by the prosecution.

No Intention to Fulfill the Threat

Aggravated trespass does not end at the issuance of threat. The offender must go to their victim’s home or workplace to discharge the threat. If that did not happen, the offender would not be guilty under Section 601 of the California penal Code. For example, if two people differed over an issue and one threatened the other. The one that issued the threat might follow the victim to their home or workplace, intending to apologize and make peace. The fact that the defendant entered the victim’s home or workplace without their permission does not necessarily mean that they intended to discharge the threat.

Your attorney has to prove your good intentions to the jury when you entered your victim’s home or workplace to use this strategy. If you went there armed or in a manner suggesting that you were ready to fight, your intentions would automatically be interpreted as intending to carry out the threat.

California Aggravated Trespass and Related Crimes

Three California offenses are related to aggravated trespass. These offenses are sometimes charged in place of, or together with, aggravated trespass under Section 601 of the state’s Penal Code. The three crimes are:

California Trespass

California law against trespassing is under Section 602 of the state’s Penal Code. This law defines trespass as entering or remaining in another person’s property without their permission. The offense is usually convicted as a misdemeanor, attracting a maximum jail sentence of six months and a fine of not more than $1,000.

All kinds of situations could qualify as trespassing in California. Some are usual, while others are very unusual. It helps to work closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you face charges for trespassing. Only he/she can help plan a strong defense to convince the court that you were not trespassing.

Some of the defense strategies that your attorney can use in your favor include:

  • That you have the right to be in that place
  • That the owner/owners had given you permission to enter or remain in their property
  • That there was no indication that the said property was private. It could be that the property owners had not fenced it, or there was no sign to that effect. Remember that you cannot face criminal trespass charges if the property in question is public.

California Burglary

The state law against burglary is under Section 459 of the California Penal Code. As per this law, burglary is defined as entering another person’s home, business, or workplace intending to commit a theft or a felony once inside. Note that the requirement here is to enter the said structure. You will still be found guilty even if the theft or felony did not occur.

There are two levels of burglary in California, first-degree and second-degree burglaries. A person is charged with first-degree burglary if the place they entered to commit a serious crime is another person’s home. On the other hand, second-degree burglary involves entering another person’s business or any different structure other than their home.

First-degree burglaries are always convicted as a felony, attracting a prison sentence of not more than four years. Second-degree burglaries are usually wobbler offenses, which means an offender can face a misdemeanor or felony conviction. If an offender is facing felony charges, they will receive a maximum prison sentence of three years. A misdemeanor conviction usually attracts a less harsh penalty of a maximum of one year in jail.

Criminal Threats

Issuance of criminal threats is also a crime in California, as provided in the state’s Penal Code Section 422. A person is said to have issued a criminal threat if they threatened to injure or take the life of another person physically. In this case, the threat should be believable enough to arouse actual fear in the other person, fear for personal safety, or the safety of their close family members. Just like threats in criminal trespass, criminal threats could be communicated verbally, electronically, or in writing.

Criminal threats offense is usually a wobbler, which means that the prosecutor can charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If you face felony charges, you could receive a maximum prison sentence of four years, among other serious consequences.

Find Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm Near Me

If you have been charged with aggravated trespassing and feel that you are wrongly accused, get in touch with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. You may not have intended to carry out the threat or to cause the other person to fear. The best legal defense will have your charges dropped or reduced, depending on your case’s facts. If you are in Orange County, CA, call the Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm team at 714-740-7848. We have the resources and the experience needed to give your case the best shot at a favorable outcome.