You are trespassing if you go on private property when the owners don’t want you there. The law protects private property from trespassers. Owners pay for the right to privacy when they buy land and the buildings on it. Trespassing becomes a crime anytime you can see that the owner doesn’t want you there. Let’s look at what criminal trespassing is and how you could face criminal charges.

How Do You Know When You’re Trespassing?

If you’re taking a walk and see a sign that reads, “NO TRESPASSING,” the owner is warning you that their land is private. After seeing that sign, you intentionally and willfully trespass on their private property rights if you continue on.

Another way that owners let you know to keep away is by fencing. If you climb over or under a fence to get onto a property, you criminally trespass by continuing forward.

Certain kinds of trespassing cause you to face more severe charges. However, all intentional forays onto another’s property without their permission can be considered trespassing.

Class 3 Misdemeanor Trespassing

This type of trespassing can be unintentional. You could accidentally walk onto someone’s property without seeing the posted signs. However, if caught, you could face conviction for class 3 misdemeanor trespassing, and you could face a fine or even up to 20 days in jail.  

Class 3 misdemeanor trespassing occurs if you enter or remains on premises of another without authorization:

  • You’ve been notified not to enter or stay:
    • by the owner
    • someone in charge of the premises
    • a lawful occupant
  • There are “No Trespassing” signs or notices not to enter the premises posted. And the signs are posted in a manner reasonably likely to come to your attention.

Class 2 Misdemeanor Trespassing

Most minor trespassing in North Carolina is rated a Class 2 misdemeanor. If convicted, you could face up to 60 days in jail and fines from the court for this crime. It is a Class 2 misdemeanor in NC if you enter or remain in a closed or secured property without permission:

  • On enclosed or secured property 
  • In someone else’s building
  • On the lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, after excluded by a resolution.

Class A1 Misdemeanor Trespassing

This class of misdemeanor trespassing can bring a more severe sentence. You can face up to 150 days in jail for this offense. It is Class A1 misdemeanor trespassing if you actually entered a building or had to climb over/under a fence or other barrier AND it was any of these properties:

  • Owned or operated by an electric power supplier 
  • Used for public water system
  • Owned or operated by a natural gas distribution company or natural gas pipeline carrier
  • Used for agricultural activities

Class I Felony Trespassing

At this level of trespassing, you’re looking at felony rather than misdemeanor charges. Felony level trespassing is more intentional than misdemeanor trespassing. Either you’ve been warned before about trespassing on a specific property, or you’re deceiving others that you own the property on which you trespass. Felony trespassing is not accidental. It involves choosing to deceive or go somewhere you’ve specifically been warned about.

If you commit a Class I felony, you could face up to 12 months in prison and owe a fine of $1,000 if:

  • You reentered a property after having previously been removed by a valid order 
  • You knowingly provided materially false evidence of ownership or interest.
  • This is your second or subsequent violation of trespassing on the lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after excluded by a resolution.

Class H Felony Trespassing

Some conditions make simple trespassing into a felony charge. If you plan to cause trouble or hurt someone, law enforcement takes your crime more seriously.  Disrupting a water plant’s operations or trying to poison water both fall into Class H felony trespassing. 

If you’re trying to shut down the electricity to a city by breaking into the power plant, you’re risking others’ rights. When you start threatening others by disrupting utility plants or disturbing food production on a farm, you’re hurting more people than just a property owner and yourself. 

Class H felony trespassing can bring you up to 25 months of jail time. More than 2 years of your life behind bars is not anyone’s idea of a good time.

Your offense is a Class H felony if any of the following apply:

  • You intended to disrupt the regular operation of any of the facilities described above in A1 misdemeanor offenses
  • You did something that placed you or others on the premises at risk of serious bodily injury.

Whether you intentionally or accidentally trespass, if you face charges for criminal activity, you need to contact an experienced criminal law attorney to work with prosecutors and negotiate your charges. 

Extenuating circumstances, misunderstandings, and outright lies can bring you a criminal record without the proper representation. A criminal record can prevent you from getting a good job, leasing an apartment, or working in specific fields. 

We Can Help

If you’re facing trespassing charges, our criminal law attorneys at Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna can help you navigate the criminal justice system. We work with prosecutors to defend your position and be your voice in a complicated arena requiring knowledge of the law and civil procedures. Our goal is to walk you through the process and find the best outcome for your situation. We’ve had past success obtaining reduced charges, deferred prosecution, or dismissal of charges. Contact us today and find out how we can help. 

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