Criminal trespassing is a serious offense that could get you into a lot of trouble. In many cases, prosecutors can charge you with a felony. Even a misdemeanor charge often carries jail time. Without an experienced Denver trespassing defense attorney by your side, you could be facing years of incarceration for what might seem like a minor offense.
What Is Trespassing?
Put simply—you trespass when you enter or remain on someone else’s property without authorization. The two main forms of trespassing are civil criminal trespassing and civil trespassing. These two forms of trespassing are not mutually exclusiveーa single act can constitute both civil and criminal trespassing.
The Difference Between Criminal Trespassing and Civil Trespassing
Civil trespassing is an action for money damages filed by the owner of the property you trespassed upon. The property owner has no authority to throw you into jail. Neither does a court unless your trespassing rises to the level of a criminal offense.
Nevertheless, if the prosecutor’s office considers you guilty of a crime, they might initiate criminal prosecution against you even over the property owner’s objections (i.e., the victim). Remember that although all criminal trespassing is always also civil trespassing, unintentional trespassing is not a criminal offense.
Criminal Trespassing: The Intent Requirement
Criminal trespassing requires you to know that you lack the authorization to be present on someone’s property. This knowledge alone is not necessarily enough to secure a conviction, but it is a minimum requirement in most cases.
Warning signs or notice
The prosecutor can use the presence of warning signs (e.g., “Private Property–Keep Out”, or “Authorized Personnel Only”) on the property to prove that you knew that you did not have the authorization to be on the property. Verbal notice is also useful to establish your intent to trespass.
It’s All a Matter of Degree
Following are brief descriptions of the three types of criminal trespassing in Colorado.
First-Degree Criminal Trespass
First-degree criminal trespass (CRS § 18-4-502) is the most serious form of criminal trespassing. You commit first-degree trespassing when you unlawfully enter someone else’s home or motor vehicle with the intent to commit a crime. You don’t actually have to commit a crime (other than trespassing); you just have to intend to do so. For example, the police might arrest you for first-degree criminal trespass if they catch you in someone’s garage with burglar’s tools.
First-degree trespassing penalties are severe. Colorado classifies first-degree criminal trespassing as a class 5 felony (CRS § 18-1.3-401) with penalties of up to three years of incarceration and a fine of up to $100,000.
Second-Degree Criminal Trespass
You commit second-degree criminal trespass (CRS § 18-4-403) when you:
- Illegally enter or remain on property that has been fenced in or otherwise enclosed;
- Knowingly and illegally enter or remain In the public areas of a hotel, motel apartment complex, or condominium; or
- Knowingly and illegally enter or remain in someone’s vehicle.
As an example, you might face second-degree trespass charges for refusing to leave the lobby of a hotel in which you are not a guest. Even if you entered legally, remaining after staff asks you to leave constitutes illegally “remaining” on the property.
Second-degree criminal trespass is usually a petty offense (CRS § 18-1.3-503), but under some circumstances, it can be a class 2 misdemeanor (CRS § 18-1.3-501) or a class 4 felony (CRS § 18-3-401). As such, penalties vary widely, from no jail time and a token fine to six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Third-Degree Criminal Trespass
Colorado classifies most forms of third-degree criminal trespass (CRS § 18-4-504) as misdemeanor trespassing. You commit third-degree criminal trespass when you knowingly and unlawfully enter or remain on someone else’s property.
The most common difference between third-degree trespassing cases and second-degree trespassing cases is that in a third-degree case, the land is not fenced in. An example would be remaining in a public park after it closes.
Third-degree criminal trespass is usually a petty offense (CRS § 18-1.3-503), but Colorado can charge you with a class 3 misdemeanor (CRS § 18-1.3-501). Penalties can range from no incarceration to a small fine to six months in jail and a fine of up to $750.
Contact a Denver Trespassing Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing trespass charges, don’t try to “go it alone.” Trespassing law is complex, and you need the assistance of an experienced Denver trespassing defense lawyer. Don’t despair. Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C. has more than a quarter of a century of experience dealing with the Colorado justice system. We also handle other types of cases, including:
Contact us online to schedule a free initial evaluation of your case.