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Criminal Trespass

Property boundaries are not always marked by signs indicating that you should not enter.  However, this does not mean you cannot be arrested and charged with criminal trespass. Arizona state law classifies criminal trespass in three distinct categories: third, second, and first degree. Each degree of the crime has its penalties if a person gets convicted. To stand a chance of avoiding these penalties, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you are facing any of the criminal trespass charges in Phoenix, AZ, you should contact Phoenix Criminal Attorney as quickly as possible. Similarly, in case you are being investigated for this offense, you should reach out to us. Our attorneys will work towards a satisfactory solution to your situation and will strive to defend your rights at all times. They will build a strong defense strategy that will yield the best probable outcome. In this article, we talk about what Criminal Trespass in Arizona entails and what to expect if convicted.

Understanding Arizona Criminal Trespass Law

The Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S) Title 13 Chapter 15 sets forth the crime of criminal trespass. It defines it as knowingly entering a property or unlawfully remaining on that property after being informed to leave. It also refers to entering a property with no permission from the property owner. Criminal trespass also occurs when you trespass on a property that has a signpost warning you not to go into that property.

You will be said to have committed burglary when you commit criminal trespass and at the same time intend to commit a theft or felony on the property involved.

‘No Trespassing’ Signs Requirements in Arizona

Arizona has no specific requirements for signs that indicate there is no trespassing. Additionally, a ‘no trespassing’ sign doesn’t have to be put in place for a person to be said to have committed a criminal trespass offense. If a property owner wants to put signage, a simple signage reading ‘keep out’ or ‘no trespassing’ is sufficient. This is because as far as signs are concerned, the law only mentions ‘reasonable notice prohibiting entry.’

However, in Phoenix, owners of the property can submit an ‘authority to arrest’ form. The form gives law enforcement officers the authority to patrol a property and nab trespassers. A property owner who submits an authority-to-arrest form must put signs at all possible entrances indicating there is no trespassing. They must also display these signs on the boundary of the property at regular intervals. This is according to the terms and conditions of the powers the city grants.

In Phoenix, it is recommended that the signs be, at a minimum, 16 inches by 24 inches. This is explicitly mentioned in the trespassing law under A.R.S 13-1502 A1, and it appears in both Spanish and English languages.

Degrees of Criminal Trespass

Generally, criminal trespass offense is divided into three. That is:

  • Third-degree criminal trespass
  • Second-degree criminal trespass
  • First-degree criminal trespass

First-Degree Criminal Trespass

A.R.S 13-1504 defines a first-degree criminal trespass offense.  A person will be said to have committed a first-degree criminal trespass offense if he/she intentionally does the following acts:

  • Enters or unlawfully remains on or in another’s residential structure
  • Enters or illegally remains on a residential yard that is fenced
  • Enters a residential yard then, without legal authority looks into a residential structure on that yard recklessly violating the resident’s privacy rights
  • Enters or illegally remains on a real property which has a legal mineral lease or claims with intent to work, hold, explore for more minerals or take the minerals from that lease or claim
  • Enters or unlawfully remains on another person’s property then defaces, mutilates, burns, or desecrates a religious emblem or any other religion-related property belonging to the person without his/her consent
  • Enters or unlawfully remain n or in a public services facility

A residential structure refers to any structure, either immovable or movable, temporary or permanent, adapted for lodging or human residence. It does not matter whether the structure is unoccupied or occupied.

On the other hand, a fenced residential yard is a unit containing real property, that’s adjacent to or immediately surrounds a residential building. A residential yard can be surrounded by a wall, building, fence, or a barrier of similar making. It can also be surrounded by a combination of walls, buildings, fences, or barriers of the same making.

A public services facility means either of the following:

A fenced yard or structure, which has signage posted on it, indicating that trespassing is illegal. Or a sign indicating high pressure or high voltage and is only used by:

  • A bus,
  • A rail,
  • Air,
  • A private or public utility,
  • A municipal corporation,
  • Town,
  • City, or
  • Any other political subdivisions that are organized under Arizona laws and that it transmits, generates, provides, or distributes:
  • Natural gas,
  • Electricity,
  • A combustible element, or
  • Liquefied petroleum gas for a delivery system that’s not:
  • A telephone company or telecommunications carrier
  • A retail-only facility
  • An agency of law enforcement
  • A municipal provider
  • A private or public fire department
  • An emergency health service provider

Also, a public service facility can refer to a fenced yard, structure, or any apparatus or equipment posted with a sign indicating that trespassing is illegal. Or with a sign indicating high pressure or high voltage, used in manufacturing, extracting, transporting, distributing or storing:

  • Gas (liquefied petroleum gas or natural gas)
  • Electricity
  • Oil
  • Hazardous materials
  • Water

First-degree criminal trespass can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony based on the nature and type of crime.

Second-Degree Criminal Trespass

A.R.S. 13-1503 defines second-degree criminal trespass. As per this statue, a person is said to have committed second-degree criminal trespass if he/she intentionally or knowingly enters or unlawfully remains on or in a non-residential structure. Second-degree criminal trespass also occurs if a person enters or unlawfully remains in any commercial yard that is fenced.

A non-residential structure refers to any structure apart from a residential building, which has a retail premises.

A fenced commercial yard refers to a unit containing real property, which is entirely enclosed by walls, buildings, fences, or a barrier of similar making. Alternatively, it could be enclosed by a combination of walls, buildings, fences, or barriers of the same making. Fenced commercial yards are zoned for different business operations. They may also be places where produce, livestock, and other commercial commodities are located.

Second-degree criminal trespass is convicted as a misdemeanor Class 2 offense.

Third-Degree Criminal Trespass

A.R.S 13-1502 sets forth the crime of third-degree criminal trespass. You will have committed a third-degree criminal trespass offense if you:

  • Knowingly enter or unlawfully remain on a property even after a police officer, property owner, or another party in charge of the property reasonably requesting you to leave. Alternatively, if there is reasonable notice forbidding entry.
  • Knowingly enter or unlawful remain on the right-of-way for storage, switching or storage yards, rolling stock, or tracks belonging to a railroad company.

Note that a police officer can request you to leave the property. This is provided he/she has been required by the property owner or any person having legal control over that property to do so. This request by a police officer has a similar legal effect just like the request the owner of the property or a person that has legal control of that property would make.

Third-degree criminal trespass is charged as a misdemeanor class 3 offense

Note that a common thread of all the three forms of Arizona criminal trespass is how a person must illegally enter or remain in or on another person’s property.

Criminal Trespass Penalties

Under certain circumstances, first-degree criminal trespassing can be punishable under a Class 6 or Class 5 felony. The circumstances are if the trespassing took place in another’s residential structure. It is also a felony if the trespassing took place on another’s property to deface a religious symbol or any other religious property. First-degree criminal trespass can also be a felony if it took place on a public service facility. All the remaining criminal trespass offenses are considered misdemeanors.

A criminal trespass felony offense in the Class 5 category carries between six months and two and a half years of a prison sentence. Alternatively, you may be sentenced to probation and a maximum of one year in jail.

A criminal trespass felony offense in the Class 6 category carries between four and eighteen months of a prison sentence. Alternatively, you may be sentenced to probation and a maximum of one year of a jail sentence. You may also be subjected to a fine of up to $150,000.

The punishment for a misdemeanor criminal trespass in the Class 1 category carries a maximum of six months of a jail sentence and up to $2,500 fine and surcharges.

A misdemeanor criminal trespass in the Class 2 category carries a maximum of four months of a jail sentence and a maximum fine of $750.

Finally, a misdemeanor criminal trespass in the Class 3 category (third-degree criminal trespass) carries a maximum of thirty days of a jail sentence. You may also be subjected to a maximum fine of $500. This is the least severely punished of all the three forms of criminal trespass offenses.

Elements of Criminal Trespass

The prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you criminally trespassed for you to be convicted. To do this, he/she must show that you knew it was another person’s property, yet you entered or unlawfully remained in it. The prosecutor needs to show that you deliberately remained on that property with no permission from the owner.

Additionally, the prosecutor must show that the property you in which you entered or unlawfully remained was a:

  • Residential structure
  • Fenced residential yard
  • Fenced commercial yard
  • Public service facility
  • Real property that has a legal mineral lease or claim

It is crucial to gather all the information that proves you had the legal authority to enter or remain on or in the property in question. Alternatively, you should have information showing you reasonably believed that you had the authority to enter or remain on that property. The information gathered may include statements, witnesses, or photographs. Note that it is critical not to commit any more criminal trespass while gathering this information.

In case you are facing criminal trespass charges, you have to consult a lawyer who understands Arizona criminal trespass laws. An attorney may give you information on possible legal defenses, penalties, and offenses that relate to Arizona criminal trespass.

Possible Defenses to Criminal Trespass

A criminal trespass conviction indeed comes with harsh penalties. However, it doesn’t mean that if you get charged with this offense, then you will automatically be convicted. The court permits you to prove your innocence. Proving your innocence means presenting strong, legal defenses that will convince a judge not to convict you. With the help of your attorney, there are several legal defenses you may argue so that you can improve your chances of winning the case. The defenses include:

Lack of intent

A possible legal defense to criminal trespass is if you did not have the intention to criminally trespass.

Simply put, you did not mean to enter or unlawfully remain on or in the property of another person and did that by accident. To prove this, you must establish that you did not know you were illegally entering a property that belonged to someone else. For instance, signage prohibiting entry to a place may not have been conspicuously posted so that everybody can easily see it. In this case, you may raise a solid defense that you merely wandered on the property accidentally and didn’t have the intention of trespassing. 

The person who asked you to leave the property did not have the authority to do so

As we mentioned earlier, only three parties can ask you to leave a property lest they accuse you of criminally trespassing. These parties include a law enforcement officer, property owner, or any other party that has legal control over the property. Also, note that the law enforcement officer has to be acting at the request of the property owner or the person legally mandated to have control of the property. If the request to leave does not come from the property owner, the party in control of the property, or a police officer acting at the request of the two, then it is not valid.

In this case, you can prove that the party that asked you to leave the property didn’t have the legal authority to do so. If you do so, you stand a chance of winning your case.

You had permission to enter or remain on the property

Another potential defense that may help you beat criminal trespass charges is if you had the authority to be on the property in question. For instance, you may establish that the owner of the property invited you as his/her guest.

The request to leave wasn’t reasonable

The property owner, law enforcement, or the person legally to have control of the property may have unreasonably asked you to leave the property. If this is the case and your attorney can prove it, the chances that your charges will be dismissed or reduced will be high.

The contents of the notice to not trespass were deficient

If the warning not to trespass involves a poster, you may argue that the contents of that poster were insufficient and unclear. You also may argue that the posting of that notice did not comply with the trespassing law. The signage indicating there is no trespassing may not be positioned in a manner that would reasonably notify a person not to enter the property. If that is the case, you may argue that you did not commit criminal trespass.

Mistaken identity

You can argue a case of mistaken identity as a legal defense to criminal trespass. It could be that you were not on the property in question and are being falsely accused. If this is the case, your attorney may show that you are being mistaken for the real person that criminally trespassed since you look alike.

Related Crimes to Criminal Trespass

Related crimes to criminal trespass refer to the offenses that are closely related to criminal trespass in certain aspects but are charged differently. These offenses may be charged instead of or alongside criminal trespass. They include:

  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Arson

Find an Experienced Phoenix Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you get charged with criminal trespass, you may feel anxious, frightened, and uncertain about what will happen to you. This is quite normal considering the Arizona law is quite harsh on people who criminally trespass. However, you should not panic if you have an attorney by your side. The experienced and competent criminal defense lawyers at Phoenix Criminal Attorney could help you through this hard time. We dedicate ourselves to defending our clients’ rights and providing proper legal representation to the ones charged with an offense. Contact us at 602-551-8092, so we can assess your case.

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