“Criminal Trespass” or “trespassing” is one of those catch all terms that doesn’t always mean the same thing in Legalese as it does in English.
In Georgia, it has several different definitions. You have committed the offense of criminal trespass when you:
- Intentionally damage the property of another person without their consent and the damage is worth under $500.00;
- Interfere with the possession or use of the property of another person without that person’s consent;
- Enter someone’s property for an ‘unlawful purpose’;
- Went on to someone’s property after they told you not to;
- Remain on someone’s property after they told you to leave; or
- Deface a grave marker or memorial to the deceased if it is on private land.
But what do those mean, exactly, and why are there six different definitions? I’ll take them each separately.
- This one happens when you purposely break someone’s stuff without their consent. It doesn’t count if it is an accident. It doesn’t count if they give you permission. And you can’t be charged with damaging your own property. This one comes up a lot when, say, someone punches a hole in the wall. If you happen to own the wall, it’s perhaps stupid, but not a crime.
- Interfering with someone’s property is sort of like ‘theft lite.’ This subsection isn’t used often, but might be best described as a game of ‘keep away’ or if you TP someone’s yard – you haven’t actually damaged anything, but you did interfere with their right to ‘quiet’ possession of their property. (The right to quiet possession is a different topic for a different day.)
- This one is sort of like ‘burglary lite.’ In order to be charged with burglary, you have to enter someone’s home for the purpose of committing a theft or a felony. This covers situations that aren’t a theft or a felony but are illegal. Like if you came to someone’s house for the purpose of punching them.
- If someone tells you that you can’t come on their property, you can’t come on their property. This doesn’t mean that any time you go to someone’s house uninvited you have committed criminal trespass. That’s what doorbells are for. It’s only if you’ve been told by the owner, or by an ‘authorized agent’ of the owner that you can’t come back.
- If you are on someone’s property, even if you had an invitation, and they tell you to leave, you have to leave. Period. End of story. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a ride, or if you left something in a back bedroom. It’s like the rules with vampires – once your invitation is rescinded, you’ve got to go immediately.
- This one should be obvious, and anyone who tampers with something honoring a deceased person, well, I won’t finish that sentence and I’ll let you use your imagination.
You’ll notice that none of that talks about signs or fences or anything like that. It isn’t so much that a “no trespassing” sign is meaningless as that depending upon the circumstances, it might be tough to prove that the alleged trespasser saw the sign and read it and purposely ignored it. The communication to the trespasser that they aren’t welcome is key. So, a fenced in yard with a closed gate with a large no trespassing sign, followed by a “beware of dog” sign followed by a “this property secured by Smith & Wesson” sign followed by a “KEEP OUT OR ELSE” sign is a pretty good indication that you aren’t welcome. You’d have a hard time convincing a Court that you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to be there.
As with anything else, use common sense. And when in doubt, stay away.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the particular details of your unique situation.