Have you Been Charged with Criminal Trespass in Georgia?
Trespass is a crime that is familiar to most people. It is not seen on the news frequently, but Georgia citizens understand that others are not allowed on their property without their consent. If charged with criminal trespass, the consequences can be severe. If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal trespass in Georgia, you need experienced legal representation. At Lawson and Berry, we have decades of experience that is unrivaled in Georgia. Our Attorneys will work tirelessly to defend your case and give you the best possible defense. Contact our office today for a free case evaluation.
Criminal Trespass in Georgia
O.C.G.A. §16-7-21 states multiple ways that a person can commit the offense of criminal trespass. First, a person can be convicted
- When he or she intentionally damages any property of another without consent of that other person and the damage thereto is $500.00 or less; or
- When he or she knowingly and maliciously interferes with the possession or use of the property of another person without consent of that person.
Furthermore, a person can also commit criminal trespass when they knowingly and without authority:
- Enter on the land or premises or into any part of any vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person for an unlawful purpose;
- Enter onto the land or premises of another person or into any part of any vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person after receiving notice from the owner that such entry is forbidden; or
- Remains on the land or premises of another person or within the vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person after the owner has asked the person to leave.
One thing to note is that the statute outlines that a minor cannot give permission for another to enter or invite another to enter the property or vehicles, etc. without a parent's presence or when the parent has previously given notice that entry is forbidden. Therefore, even if a minor invited a person, it will still be a crime if a parent or guardian had forbidden them to enter before.
The last way to commit criminal trespass is when a person intentionally defaces, mutilates, or defiles any grave marker, monument, or memorial to one or more deceased persons who served in the military.
Georgia courts require that reasonable and sufficiently explicit notice must be given to the trespassers that apprise them of exactly what property they are forbidden to enter. Raburn v. State, 250 Ga. 657, (1983).
Georgia Case Law on Criminal Trespass
A man was found guilty of criminal trespass in Fulton County, Georgia. United Baptist Church v. Holmes, 232 Ga. App. 253, (1998). Holmes was terminated as pastor and expelled from membership from United Baptist Church. Furthermore, he was told multiple times not to return to the church. However, Holmes did not consider his expulsion valid, and he continued to go the church despite multiple people asking him to leave. The church removed a church sign that contained Holmes' name on it, and Holmes admitted that it was communicated to him after his expulsion that he was not welcome at the church anymore. In sum, the Court concluded there was sufficient evidence showing that Holmes was guilty of criminal trespass. He had been asked numerous times to leave and knew at the time of his expulsion that he was not to come back. Therefore, he was convicted of criminal trespass.
People can still be guilty of criminal trespass even on public property, such as school grounds. Isenhower v. State, 324 Ga. App. 380, (2013). The defendant, Isenhower, was banned from her son's school via an August 2009 letter that stated she should not be at any school event without advance written authorization from the Superintendent of Schools. Isenhower was on campus on February 3, 2010, without having received written permission. She argued that her actions were justified because she had a meeting with the school administrators about her son. However, school officials testified that no meeting was scheduled for February 3. Therefore, the Court found that the evidence supported Isenhower's conviction for criminal trespass.
What has to be Proven to be Convicted
To be convicted of criminal trespass in Georgia, the State must show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The key element in trespass cases is that the accused remained on the land or property without authority. If the accused argues that they were unaware they were on private premises, then it is up to the State to prove that the accused had actual knowledge they were on private premises.
Penalty for Criminal Trespass in Georgia
A person who commits the offense of criminal trespass will be guilty of a misdemeanor. In Georgia, misdemeanors carried the sentence of either a fine up to $1,000.00, up to one year in prison, or both.
Defenses to Criminal Trespass
Consent: Any evidence that the defendant had permission to be on the property will negate a trespassing charge.
The damage to the property was unintentional: If the defendant can prove that the damage to the property was accidental or that they unintentionally interfered with the use of the property, then that could be a great argument.
The person giving the notice not to enter was not authorized to do so: Notice not to enter must be given by either the owner or a rightful occupant of the property. A neighbor, friend, or someone else that is not an occupant will not satisfy the statute, and therefore, the accused may not be guilty of criminal trespass. Jackson v. State, 242 Ga. App. 113, (2000).
Unclear as to what property the accused was not allowed to enter: The Court requires that the owner of the property give reasonable and explicit notice of what property the trespassers are not allowed to enter. If the notice was ambiguous or unclear, then that could be a defense.
What are not Defenses
I had permission from the minor child: Georgia law does not allow for a minor to give permission if the parents or guardian had already told the parties they could not enter.
Accidents happen, and sometimes you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal trespass, call our offices today to speak with a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney. A charge is not the same as a conviction so don't assume your case is over. Let us help you prepare a strong defense. Contact us today.