Can You Get Arrested for Trespassing?

by LegalFix
Posted: May 16, 2023
criminal trespassing

While we’re all generally aware of the concept of trespassing on private property, you may not have a detailed grasp of what constitutes a punishable offense. Questions like what counts as your property or whether you can cut across your neighbor’s lawn often occupy a vague space in our minds without clearly-defined parameters. Today, we’ll take a look at the legal mechanisms protecting your rights and answer the all-important question: Can you get arrested for trespassing?

What Is the Legal Definition of Trespassing? 

Before we get into the details, it’s important to understand how the law approaches the issue of trespassing. In US law, trespassing is typically considered a “civil wrong” and therefore falls under the umbrella of tort law

While you may immediately associate trespassing with entering someone’s land, there are actually three different types of legally recognized trespassing: Trespass to the Person, Trespass to Chattels, and Trespass to Land. 

Trespass to the Person most often comes into play when discussing bodily encroachments. These include things such as assault, battery, and wrongful imprisonment. The second category, Trespass to Chattels, focuses on interfering with movable possessions (the aforementioned “chattels”). 

When you speak about trespassing colloquially, you’re probably thinking about the third kind of trespass outlined in tort law. Trespass to Land is defined as knowingly entering someone’s property or land without permission, in a way that encroaches on the owners’ privacy or property interests. 

Can You Get Arrested for Trespassing? 

The punishment for trespassing varies from state to state. In most cases, legal trespass is considered either a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor. Depending on the laws where you live, the maximum penalties for violations of this nature can range as high as $5,000 in fines or up to 90 days in jail. 

This means that the answer to the question “Can you get arrested for trespassing?” is technically yes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re risking jail time by taking a shortcut through your neighbor’s backyard. Most instances of trespassing are not punished to the fullest extent of the law, even if you are convicted. Unless you can be proven to have trespassed with malicious intent (or are a serial offender), chances are that any legal penalties will be on the lighter side. 

It’s also important to note that the above definition of Trespass to Land does have some exceptions, and there are a number of cases in which you can pass through or otherwise use someone else’s property without legal repercussions. For example, while someone’s yard is their property, the law allows for some minimal use of the space without consent. This is why a delivery person can legally walk onto your property to deliver a package. 

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