The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has several laws that are designed to protect the rights of property owners. Property owners in the Keystone State have the right to deny access to anybody who they do not want to access their premises.
When a visitor enters property against the wishes of the property owner, he or she could be charged with a trespassing crime. Alleged offenders, however, may be excused for not knowing they were breaking the law if the property owner failed to post any signs warning them that their entrance was prohibited.
Lawyer for Criminal Trespass Arrests in West Chester, PA
Were you arrested in southeastern Pennsylvania for any kind of alleged trespassing violation? You will want to take the charges seriously and contact Ciccarelli Law Offices as soon as possible for help achieving the most favorable outcome to your case.
Our West Chester criminal defense attorneys have offices in Radnor, Plymouth Square, Malvern, West Chester, Springfield, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Lancaster, and Kennett Square. Call (610) 719-3200 today to have them review your case and discuss your legal options during a free initial consultation.
Overview of Criminal Trespass Crimes in Chester County
- What constitutes trespassing in Pennsylvania?
- What sentences can be imposed on people convicted of this offense?
- Where can I find more information about trespassing in West Chester?
Types of Criminal Trespass Charges in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 3503, there are essentially five different kinds of trespassing violations. The different forms of trespassing offenses include:
- Criminal Trespass — As it applies to buildings and occupied structures, it is a third-degree felony for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to enter, gain entry by subterfuge or surreptitiously remain in any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof. It is a second-degree felony if an alleged offender, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to break into any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.
- Defiant Trespasser — It is a third-degree misdemeanor for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to enter or remain in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by actual communication to the alleged offender, posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders, or notices posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention at each entrance of school grounds that visitors are prohibited without authorization from a designated school, center or program official. If an alleged offender, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by an actual communication to the alleged offender to leave school grounds as communicated by a school, center or program official, employee or agent or a law enforcement officer, the crime is a first-degree misdemeanor.
- Simple Trespasser — It is a summary offense for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to enter or remain in any place for the purpose of threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises, starting or causing to be started any fire upon the premises, or defacing or damaging the premises.
- Agricultural Trespasser — It is a third-degree misdemeanor for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to enter or remain on any agricultural or other open lands when such lands are posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention or are fenced or enclosed in a manner manifestly designed to exclude trespassers or to confine domestic animals. It is a second-degree misdemeanor for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to enter or remain on any agricultural or other open lands and defies an order not to enter or to leave that has been personally communicated to him by the owner of the lands or other authorized person.
- Agricultural Biosecurity Area Trespasser — It is a summary offense for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to knowingly or recklessly fail to perform reasonable measures for biosecurity that by posted notice are required to be performed for entry to the agricultural biosecurity area. It is a third-degree misdemeanor for a person, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, to an agricultural biosecurity area. If either one of the aforementioned offenses causes damage to or death of an animal or plant within an agricultural biosecurity area, the offense constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor.
Criminal Trespass Penalties and Defenses in Chester County
Convictions for trespassing carry extremely serious consequences. The sentence an alleged offender receives will depend on the grade of the crime for which he or she was convicted, but the possible statutory maximums for property crimes include:
- Summary Offense — Up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300;
- Third-Degree Misdemeanor — Up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500;
- Second-Degree Misdemeanor — Up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000;
- First-Degree Misdemeanor — Up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000; or
- Third-Degree Felony— Up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
State law does recognize certain defenses in these types of cases. A few of the affirmative defenses that may be employed include:
- The building or occupied structure involved was abandoned;
- The premises were at the time open to members of the public and the alleged offender complied with all lawful conditions imposed on access to or remaining in the premises; and
- The alleged offender reasonably believed that the owner of the premises, or other person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him or her to enter or remain.
Pennsylvania Resources for Criminal Trespass Offenses
How to Keep Someone off Your Property — View this pamphlet from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network that provides recommended actions for keeping other people out of your home or off your property. The pamphlet discusses who can be told to stay away and ways to tell people to stay away. It also covers what happens when defiant trespass laws do not apply or an intruder refuses to comply with requests.
Commonwealth v. Namack, 663 A.2d 191 — The McKay family owned property that included a trial leading to the banks of the Delaware River. The McKays gave permission to Thomas Namack and several neighbors to use the trail in order to reach a swimming hole on the river, but asked Namack in May 1993 to sign a hold-harmless agreement which would hold John McKay harmless for any injuries or other harm suffered while on the property. After Namack refused to sign the agreement, McKay filed a criminal complaint asserting that Namack had committed defiant trespass. While Namack was found guilty in summary proceedings before a district justice, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed that decision, concluding:
Because the Commonwealth failed to establish either that appellant did not have a bona fide belief in his right to use the trail or that the facts believed would not, if true, have rendered his presence on the McKay property entirely innocent, we must conclude that the Commonwealth failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant entered the property knowing that he had no license or privilege to do so. In light of the failure to prove this essential element of the crime of defiant trespass, appellant’s conviction must be reversed.
Ciccarelli Law Offices | West Chester Criminal Trespass Lawyer
If you were arrested for allegedly committing any kind of trespassing violation in southeastern Pennsylvania, it is in your best interest to immediately retain legal counsel. Ciccarelli Law Offices aggressively defends clients all over Montgomery County, Delaware County, Lancaster County, Chester County, and the greater Philadelphia area.
Our West Chester criminal defense attorneys work as a team to get criminal charges reduced or dismissed. You can have them provide a full evaluation of your case when you call (610) 719-3200 or complete an online contact form to take advantage of a free, confidential consultation.