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The Difference Between Trespass and Criminal Trespass

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Laws in Washington state protect landowners from unwanted visitors by imposing criminal penalties for trespassing. If you are on someone else’s land without permission, law enforcement officers can easily arrest you and charge you with this crime — and depending on the circumstances, you may receive higher penalties if your trespassing was criminal. There are several factors that can upgrade a trespassing charge to criminal trespassing.

Trespassing versus Criminal Trespassing

Regular trespassing, also known as civil trespass, occurs when you are entering or accessing someone else’s property without his or her permission. However, you may not be aware that you are on someone else’s land at the time of the incident — this knowledge is crucial to defining the difference between trespass and criminal trespass.

If you know that you do not have permission to be on the property that you are on, ignore clear no trespassing signs, and continue to remain or enter the property regardless, you are committing an act of criminal trespass. Wandering onto someone’s property from your own and not realizing that you entered someone else’s land would be an act of civil trespass. Climbing over a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign posted onto it would be an act of criminal trespass.

Washington’s Criminal Trespassing Laws

It is important to obtain permission before entering someone else’s building or property, and failure to do so can lead to serious consequences. In the state of Washington, criminal trespass is a crime that can result in jail time and high fines.

There are two main types of criminal trespassing charges.

  • Criminal trespassing in the second degree occurs when you knowingly enter or stay unlawfully on someone’s property in a way that does not constitute a first-degree criminal trespassing charge. This crime is a misdemeanor, and you may receive up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine as punishment.
  • Criminal trespassing in the first degree occurs when you knowingly enter or stay unlawfully in a building. This crime is a gross misdemeanor, which is a more serious charge than a misdemeanor. You could face up to 364 days in prison and a fine up to $5,000 if a court convicts you of this crime.

Why You Need an Attorney for Criminal Trespassing Charges

If you are facing charges for criminal trespass in Washington, it is important to take the necessary steps to advocate for your side of the story and to protect your chances of obtaining the best possible outcome. Follow these steps immediately after your arrest to avoid additional charges and to seek the assistance you need.

  • Do not resist arrest, run away, or fight against the police officers who are arresting you. This could lead to additional charges and penalties, and the prosecution may use this behavior as evidence that you knew that you were committing a crime. Instead, comply with the officers’ orders and go quietly to the police station.
  • The officers will read you your rights after your arrest, and one of the most important is the right to remain silent. Do not argue your case or speak to any officers or investigators until after your attorney is present. Ask to call your attorney, and do not stop asking for your attorney until after they allow you to call him or her.
  • Finally, contact your lawyer. It may feel tempting to stay with the public defender assigned to your case or to forgo legal representation entirely. Hiring your own criminal defense lawyer can provide you with a number of benefits that a public defender or self-representation cannot. Your attorney will have access to the resources necessary to build your case, along with a strong knowledge of the Washington criminal justice system and the strategies necessary to build a compelling case in your favor.

Are you facing charges for trespassing or criminal trespassing in the state of Washington? You need an attorney on your side to represent your case and advocate towards the best possible outcome. Contact us today to discuss your case and strategize your next steps.

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