"Trespassing" may sound like a pretty innocuous offense in the grand scheme of things. But under California law, aggravated trespassing is a serious offense. What's the difference? The latter involves a threat against someone.
Under California Penal Code section 601, a charge of aggravated trespassing may be brought against anyone who enters another person's residence or workplace for the purposes of making good on a previous threat of bodily injury. Even if no attack actually takes place, trespassing under such circumstances can be charged as a felony.
Aggravated trespassing—also called felony trespassing or trespassing after making threats—is prohibited by California Penal Code Section 601. It involves trespassing upon someone else’s property to make good on a previous threat.
In California, trespassing is a simple misdemeanor; however, aggravated trespassing is usually a felony. The offense is considered to be a “wobbler” – meaning the prosecution has the discretion to decide whether to file charges as a misdemeanor or felony. This decision is usually based on the circumstances of the offense and the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any.
Elements of aggravated trespassing
In order to successfully convict on a charge of aggravated trespassing under 601 PC, the prosecution must prove all of the following elements:
- The defendant made a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury—either verbally, in writing, electronically, or based on a pattern of behavior—against another person.
- The defendant intended for the threat to make the other person fear for their safety, or for an immediate family member’s safety.
- The defendant unlawfully entered the person’s residence or workplace without a legitimate reason within 30 days of making the threat with the intention to act upon it.
For the purposes of aggravated trespassing, “serious bodily injury” means significant injury or impairment and can include:
- Broken bones
- Concussion and/or loss of consciousness
- Serious disfigurement
- Wounds requiring extensive medical treatment
- Loss of, or reduced functioning of an internal organ or other part of the victim’s body
It is important to mention that one cannot be charged with aggravated trespassing for entering his or her own home or place of employment. However, if a defendant did, in fact, enter his or her own home to carry out a threat against another family member or significant other, while s/he may not be successfully convicted under 601 PC, other felony charges may apply. This is why aggravated trespassing is often charged along with stalking or domestic violence-related offenses.
If convicted of misdemeanor aggravated trespassing, a defendant could face any or all of the following:
- Up to one year in county jail
- A fine not to exceed $2,000
- Summary probation
Penalties for felony aggravated trespassing may include:
- 16 months to three years in prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Formal probation
Legal defenses for aggravated trespassing
Because the details of each situation are unique, the appropriate legal defense for a charge of aggravated trespassing varies based on the facts of the alleged offense. Only a licensed and qualified attorney can provide reliable legal advice. However, potential legal defenses for aggravated trespassing include:
- The threat was not credible.
- The threat was made without the required intention to cause the victim to fear for their own or another’s safety.
- Even if the defendant entered the victim’s home or workplace, s/he did not intend to carry out the threat.
- The defendant’s presence at the victim’s workplace or residence was purely accidental.