If you have been charged with criminal trespass in Texas, it’s important to know the role that “notice to depart” plays in your case. In this post, we’ll detail the law, the associated penalties, and what defenses you can use to fight your charges.
Criminal Trespass Definition in Texas
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor crime that can arise from several different scenarios in Texas. At its essence, criminal trespass is being in a place where you are not authorized to be.
Criminal trespass is defined in the Texas statutes as when an individual:
“…enters or remains on or in property of another, including residential land, agricultural land, a recreational vehicle park, a building, or an aircraft or other vehicle, without effective consent and the person:
(1) had notice that the entry was forbidden; or
(2) received notice to depart but failed to do so.”
In other words, you can face this charge if you enter someone’s property when you know the entry is prohibited – or if you remain on the property after being asked to leave.
You must enter the property with your entire body, whether in person or in a vehicle, for charges to apply.
Penalties for Criminal Trespass
Under most circumstances, criminal trespass is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. You could face up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 if convicted.
For trespass on agricultural land within 100 feet of the land boundary, or in a residential area within 100 feet of a freshwater stream or river, a Class C misdemeanor may apply. The penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a $500 fine.
A charge can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor if the defendant was carrying a deadly weapon at the time of the offense. If convicted, a Class A misdemeanor will result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
The charges can be raised if the trespass occurred in a building, aircraft, vehicle, recreational vehicle park, or if you have prior criminal trespass convictions. Further elevations may occur if the trespass took place on a Superfund site, in a critical infrastructure facility, or in a shelter or habitation center.
The Importance of “Notice to Depart” in Texas
A notice to depart is necessary to prove that criminal trespass occurred. Here are the five ways a notice to depart can be issued.
- Written or oral communication by the owner or another person acting on the owner’s behalf.
- An enclosure or fence that serves the obvious purpose of excluding entry to strangers or containing livestock.
- Signage posted on the property or building’s entrance that indicates entry is prohibited. The signs must be placed in areas that are reasonably likely to be seen.
- Purple paint marks placed on tree trunks or posts. The marks must be at least one inch wide and eight inches long, placed between three and five feet from the ground. In forested land, marks must be made no less than every 100 feet. On non-forested land, marks must be made no less than every 1,000 feet.
- On land with crops for human consumption, the crop itself is visible evidence that prohibits trespass. This is true while the crop is being cultivated or harvested.
If the trespass occurred under any of these situations, the charges of criminal trespass may apply.
Defenses to Criminal Trespass Charges
A skilled attorney will be able to determine the best possible defense to your charges. Common defenses to criminal trespass charges include the following:
- The individual entering the property was a firefighter.
- The individual entering the property was an emergency medical services team member.
- The individual was an acting agent for an electric or gas utility.
- The individual was an acting agent for a provider of telecommunications, cable, or video services.
- The individual was carrying a concealed handgun with a license on property or land where entry with a handgun was prohibited.
- The individual did not receive adequate notice to depart.
As you can see, unless you are able to show that you are an agent of one of the above-mentioned entities, notice to depart is likely to become a very important part of your defense.
To get your charges reduced or dismissed, you are going to need the help of an experienced Texas misdemeanor crimes attorney. You could face jail time and fines that can result in loss of income and reputation. Also, when you have a misdemeanor conviction, any crimes in your future can be punished more severely.
Call our offices today to set up a free, no-obligation case review. We’ll look at all the angles of your case, discuss the possible defenses, and come up with a plan to defend your rights.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.