Our law firm represents individuals charged with criminal trespass in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. If you face this type of offense it is important that your criminal lawyer explain that it can be graded as a felony, misdemeanor, or summary offense. Obviously, there is a dramatic difference between the grading within this criminal category and with that grading comes more severe criminal penalties such as county jail or even state prison
Trespass in Pennsylvania
As I have written in previous articles, a felony offense or crime typically carries with it a presumption that a person will face at least a county if not a state prison sentence. A misdemeanor crime, however, makes a conviction and potential jail time less likely but a person could still serve a substantial prison sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. A summary offense doesn’t typically carry with it any potential jail time but, more than likely, a fine. In Pennsylvania, criminal trespass is graded as a felony where a person enters or gains access to a building or occupied structure or if the person breaks into the building or occupied structure. If the person gains access by force, criminal trespass is graded as a felony of the 2nd degree, but if the person simply gains access through subterfuge or surreptitiously it is a felony of the 3rd degree. Pennsylvania defines “breaks into” as gaining access by force, breaking, intimidation, or unauthorized opening of locks. See Title 18 § 3503(a).
A person is a defiant trespasser under 3503(b) if he or she enters or remains in any place where notice against trespass is given. This could mean a sign or actual communication to the alleged perpetrator. In these situations, the defiant trespasser offense is defined as a misdemeanor of the 3rd degree with the only exception to a defiant trespasser on school grounds in which case it is graded as a misdemeanor of the 1st degree.
Finally, a simple trespasser under 3503(b.1) enters or remains in any place for the purposes of threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises. This offense does not include a house or building. In that situation, the offense would more than likely be graded as at least a misdemeanor if not a felony offense. A simple trespasser offense, however, is graded as a summary offense.
Criminal Defense To Trespass
If you’re charged with any trespassing crime in Pennsylvania, it is important to understand that the most common defense to this crime is that you are licensed or privileged to be in the area, home, or building in question. Your criminal lawyer can establish either this defense or reasonable doubt with regards to the actual trespass if he can show that you had keys to the property or were in some way previously granted permission to enter the property. Obviously, keys alone may not be sufficient but it’s important to understand that the criminal standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that this is the highest burden of proof in any court proceeding. Other defenses available in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to trespass include, the structure was abandoned or open to the public.
Trespass In New Jersey
In New Jersey, criminal trespass is graded as a crime of the 4th degree under 2C: 18-3. Similar to Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of this offense if he enters a structure or dwelling and is not authorized to do so. All of the defenses mentioned above are also applicable in the Garden State.
A defiant trespasser in New Jersey, under 2C: 1903(b) commits a petty disorderly offense if he enters a place when he is not authorized to do so against notice through a sign or actual communication.
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