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What is Criminal Trespass in Georgia?
When most people think of criminal offenses related to criminal trespass, they most often think of a person who enters another person’s property without permission. While that is one way to violate Georgia law, there are multiple ways that a person can commit a criminal trespass. These include:
- Intentionally damaging the property of another;
- Entering the property of another for an unlawful purpose;
- Entering the property of another after being notified that presence is forbidden;
- Remaining on the property of another after being asked to leave; and
- Defacing a grave or memorial.
There are also several defenses in Criminal Trespass cases, which you should speak to your Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney about.
Intentional Damage to Property
First, under O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21, a person commits a criminal trespass when he or she “intentionally damages any property of another without the consent of that other person.” Under this statute, the damage to the property must amount to $500 or less. Damages must be proven by the State; however, if the evidence shows that the damage was done to “everyday objects,” the trier of fact, either the judge or a jury, may form its own estimates of value and damage. Pierce v. State, 301 Ga.App. 167 (2009). While Criminal Trespass is a misdemeanor, if the damage is in excess of $500, charges may be elevated to Criminal Damage to Property, a felony under O.C.G.A. § 16-7-22.
Entering for an Unlawful Purpose
Second, a person may also violate O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21 by entering upon the premises of another for an unlawful purpose. A conviction under this subsection requires the State to prove two things:
- Knowing and unauthorized entry, and
- An unlawful purpose for that entry.
Daniel v. State, 301 Ga. 783 (2017). According to the Georgia Supreme Court, an “unlawful purpose,” or criminal intent, may be “inferred from conduct before, during, and after the commission of the crime.” Hanifa v. State, 269 Ga. 797 (1998). This subsection bears some similarities to the Burglary statute in that it requires entry plus some sort of illegal intent.
Entry After Notice that Presence is Forbidden
Third, it is also a violation of the Criminal Trespass law to “enter upon the premises of another after receiving prior notice from the owner that presence is forbidden,” or to “remain upon the premises of another after receiving a request from the owner to vacate the premises.”
Damaging or Defacing Grave Marker or Memorial
Finally, a person may be convicted of criminal trespass if he or she defaces any grave marker, monument, or memorial to any number of deceased military personnel (including those who served in the Confederate States of America).
Under all of these subsections, the State is not required to prove who the lawful owner of the property is — it is sufficient for the State to prove only the Defendant was not the lawful owner. Jones v. State, 236 Ga.App. 716 (1999).
Defenses (or, How You Can Beat A Trespassing Charge in Georgia)
There are several important defenses to note in Criminal Trespass cases. These include, for example, legal occupancy and inadequate notice.
A person who legally enters a particular property cannot be convicted of Criminal Trespass. For example, “a person who lawfully occupies a property as a tenant cannot be ejected from the property through a prosecution for criminal trespass.” Williams v. State, 261 Ga.App. 511 (2003).
Another common defense in Criminal Trespass cases is that the Defendant was not given adequate notice that he or she was not welcome on the property. In order to sustain a conviction under O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21(b), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant received notice that entry was forbidden. This notice must be reasonable and sufficiently explicit to notify the defendant that he or she is not welcome. Wood v. State, 227 Ga.App. 677 (1997). If the notice is insufficient, a conviction cannot be sustained.
For example, in Wood v. State, Defendant’s former husband stated that he did not wish to see the Defendant again. An altercation ensued between Defendant and her ex-husband three years later at a different location. The Georgia Court of Appeals found that the husband’s statement did not amount to adequate notice that she would be prosecuted if she ever came near his new house.
Possible Penalties in a Georgia Criminal Trespass Case
Criminal Trespass is a misdemeanor offense and not a felony in Georgia. That means that it carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail or on probation, plus a fine of up to $1,000. A court may also require a person convicted of Criminal Trespass to pay restitution.
Why hire a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney?
There are several reasons to consider hiring a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney in a Criminal Trespass case. The charge is a misdemeanor, but judges can sentence people convicted of this offense to a year to serve in jail, and have done so in the past. See Hill v. State, 259 Ga.App. 363 (2003). Don’t take chances. Hire an attorney who knows how to handle Criminal Trespass cases. Call me today.