Fighting criminal charges can be daunting without the help of a lawyer. Working with the Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you receive a fair outcome. The firm handles criminal cases including driving crimes and property crimes through our office in Fairfax, VA. You can also benefit from the firm’s legal representation service when facing trespassing charges.
What is Trespassing Under Virginia Laws?
The Code of Virginia comprises several laws that consider trespassing as a crime. Trespassing, in this context, is an act of entering a person's property without permission. You may only be charged for trespassing if the property is not a publicly-owned building or a public access area. Remaining on a person’s property when asked to leave also qualifies as trespassing.
Virginia Code 18.2-119 states that it's unlawful to enter or remain on a person's land after seeing a notice that prohibits trespassing. You can commit such a crime by violating a protective order against intrusion or staying on the property after the owner asks you to leave. VA Code 18.2-11 considers disorderly trespass as the act of entering a person’s property and threatening to breach or breaching their peace.
Other Virginia laws on trespassing include VA Codes 18.2-121, 18.2-23 and 18.2-120. VA Code 18.2-121 considers trespass with an intention to interfere or damage property as a Class 1 misdemeanor. You may be convicted for conspiring to enter other people's property under VA Code 18.2-23 or committing acts that encourage a trespass under VA Code 18.2-120.
Which Court handles Trespassing Cases in Virginia?
Virginia courts operate with a shared goal of resolving disputes justly, promptly and economically. Virginia’s judicial system consists of the district courts, circuit courts, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. If your offense qualifies as a misdemeanor, it will be handled at the General District Court. As part of Virginia's unified district court system, this court handles crimes that violate county/city by-laws, laws or ordinances.
You may be tried in a circuit court if your trespassing charges qualify as felonies. Circuit courts are the only trial courts with general jurisdiction over appeals, criminal cases, and civil actions. Criminal cases tried at circuit courts may include misdemeanor offenses that originated from a grand jury indictment or were appealed from district courts. They also include felonies that are punishable by at least one-year imprisonment.
A grand jury usually convenes once each term of the circuit court begins. This panel reviews the provisions that define your case to establish whether there's adequate probable cause for you to be tried in court. The Virginia judicial system doesn’t allow the grand jury to hear both sides of your case or determine your innocence/guilt at this stage.
Methods of Posting Signs on Private Property
Virginia Code 18.2-134.1 outlines the guidelines for placing signs prohibiting trapping, fishing or hunting on private land. This law states that identifying paint marks should be placed on posts or trees at road entrances that are near public waterways or public roadways. The paint mark should constitute a vertical line that’s at least 8 inches in length and 2 inches in width. The signs should be placed not more than 6 feet or not less than 3 feet from the ground or water surface.
Who is Liable for the Injuries of a Trespasser?
Trespassers have limited protection if they get hurt when trying to access private property. Consequently, the property owners are mandated by Virginia Code 18.2-134.1 to put up signs prohibiting unlawful entry. Such a gesture indicates that the owner intended to keep their land safe from intruders. You may receive any compensation for your injuries if you get hurt accessing a marked property.
Can You Get a Plea bargain for Trespassing Charges in Virginia?
Individuals charged with a first offense can be placed on probation under Virginia Code 19.2-303.2. This provision is only applicable when you enter a plea of not guilty or plead guilty to a misdemeanor offense. Offenses such as trespassing are covered under this law.
The court may place you on probation if the facts/evidence presented by the prosecutor justify that you're guilty. You should also consent to be placed on probation for the court to discard further legal proceedings. The conditions and terms of your probation may include restituting the losses caused. Violating a term or condition of your probation can lead to criminal prosecution.
What are the Penalties for Trespassing Offenses in Virginia?
Trespassing crimes fall under Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 or Class 4 misdemeanors if they are less impactful. They may be treated as a Class 6 felony if they result in harm or have a potential of causing damage. Discussed below are the penalties for different trespassing crimes in Virginia.
Trespassing by Disregarding the Owner’s Warnings
VA Code 18.2-119 considers intrusion as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Punitive measures for such an offense include a fine not exceeding $2,500 and up to 12 months jail sentence. You may be punished for committing a Class 6 felony if you intentionally entered the property by considering the owner’s ethnicity, color, religion or race. Punitive measures for this felony include a 5-year prison sentence or a minimum 6-month jail sentence
Trespassing Posted Property
Virginia Code 18.2-134.1 defines a posted property as one with clearly marked signs that prohibit trapping, hunting, and fishing. You can be prosecuted under VA Code 18.2-134 for trespassing on posted property. You need a written consent or verbal consent of the owner/leasing agent to access such property. Trespassing posted property is considered as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Trespassing Crimes Involving Cemeteries
VA Code 18.2-127(a)(3) considers the act of maliciously or willfully blocking a cemetery's entrance as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties for this crime include a fine, not more than $2,500 and a 12-month jail sentence. Trespassing on a cemetery at night without a permit is also considered a Class 4 misdemeanor (fine up to $250) under VA Code 18.2-125.
Trespassing Crimes Involving School Property
VA Code 18.2-1238(b) states that trespassing a school after seeing a posted notice is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The crime might qualify as a Class 6 felony, punishable by 5-year jail time if your actions led to the abduction of a school child. The case might be treated as a Class 3 misdemeanor under VA Code 18.2-128(a) if it involved trespassing a school bus or school property at night.
Trespassing Crimes Related to Hunting and Fishing
Hunting or laying traps in a state-owned forest without permission is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable with a $500 fine under VA Code 10.1-1157. Virginia courts also recognize trespass with intention to fish as a Class 3 misdemeanor explained in VA Code 18.2-132. You may serve a 12-month sentence or pay a $2,500 fine, under VA Code 18.2-134, for trespassing a hunting/fishing ground that doesn’t have any signs.
Trespassing Crimes Related to Transportation
VA Code 18.6-160 considers trespass on a train as a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable with a $250 fine. Trespassing other public transport systems is also unlawful (Class 4 misdemeanor) under VA Code 18.2-160.2. Your case may be treated as a Class 4 misdemeanor for trespassing on a railroad.
How Does the Prosecution Team Prove Trespassing Charges in Virginia?
The prosecutor should give substantial proof that you intentionally accessed someone else's property without permission. The prosecution team needs to prove that you entered the property without permission and remained after being asked to leave. Evidence and facts gathered by the prosecution team should include the following:
Proof of Ownership
The plaintiff should have ownership rights in the property that you’re accused of trespassing. Documents that prove ownership of property include rental agreement, lease agreement, mortgage agreement, and title deed. The records need to be valid for the prosecutor to use them as evidence.
If the case involves a trespass made on land, the plaintiff needs to establish the boundaries of this property. A report from local survey experts can help prove that you crossed the fence at the time of the incident. The report should include accurate measurements, figures, and images to support the prosecutors’ allegations.
Identifying the Trespasser
The judge may ask the plaintiff to identify you before giving a verdict on your conviction. The plaintiff can use a video or photographs to prove the allegations. Your license plate numbers can also be used to identify you in court if you went to the plaintiff property with a car.
Witnesses and Witness Statements
The prosecution team can introduce witnesses to testify or help confirm your identity. Witnesses may include the plaintiff’s neighbors, who were present at the time you committed the offense. The prosecutor can also present witness statements from these neighbors instead of them appearing in court. Information such as time and date they saw you can help build a strong case against you.
Proof of Property Damage
If your actions led to property damage, the judge might ask the prosecutors to submit evidence showing the impacts. The evidence may include written descriptions or photographs of the destruction. An expert witness can also be introduced to give a professional appraisal of the property damage.
Legal Defenses for Trespassing Charges in Virginia
People get wrongfully convicted for trespassing charges when they didn't intend to break the law. Based on the nature of your case, your criminal defense lawyer should use strong defenses to get you a fair deal. Here are some of the legal argumentsthat can work.
The Property Wasn’t Signed or Enclosed
Under VA Code 18.2-119, you may be charged for trespassing if you intentionally entered a land that had notices or signs. Such signs include a poster that warns trespassers or a fence. The court might charge you if any of these signs were visible at the property. Your attorney may argue that the signs weren't posted all around the property. Your charges may be dismissed if evidence concludes that the land didn’t have sufficient signs.
You Didn’t Disrupt Peace
Virginia Code 18.2-11 considers disorderly trespass as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Such an offense involves entering a person’s property with an intention to disrupt peace. Prosecutors can only build a case against you if they have enough evidence linking you to this crime. Arguing that the activities you undertook at the property didn’t cause any obstruction can work as a defense.
You Had the Owner’s Consent to be on the Property
Your charges may be dismissed if you prove that you had the owner's consent to access the property. However, the court may convict you if you remained at the property for an extended time without permission. You can also be charged for violating VA Code 18.2-11.9 if the owner asked you to leave, but you chose to stay.
You Had a Legal Right to be on the Property
Proving that you had a legal right to be on a person's property can be a great legal defense. Activities such as organizing labor or participating in a legal union are considered legal under Virginia laws. The First Amendment of the superior United States Constitution also offers protection to individuals participating in free expression activities.
Virginia courts may charge you for other offenses depending on your behavior at the prohibited property. Crimes such as burglary and vandalism are usually linked to trespassing crimes due to the manner of execution. Discussed below are some of the offenses related to trespassing crimes.
Damaging Any Property or Monument (VA Code 18.2-137)
Under Virginia Code 18.2-137(a), it’s unlawful to remove, damage, deface or destroy (without the intent to steal) any monument or property. This provision applies to statues that are erected to honor past achievements, mark private property or designate the boundaries of a city/town. The court handles this offense as a Class 3 misdemeanor. The court may also dismiss the charges if a written affidavit from the organization or individual that maintains the property or monument states that full payment for the damages has been received.
VA Code 18.2-137(b) states that it’s unlawful to intentionally cause such damage to a monument, memorial or property. The case may be treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor if the value of the asset is below $1,000 and as a Class 6 felony if the value of the asset is above $1,000. Restitution may be calculated by considering the current market replacement or repair costs. Once convicted, the court may order the offender to settle these costs.
Entering an Occupied House with the Intention to Commit Battery, Assault or Other Felony (VA Code 18.2-91)
You may be convicted for statutory burglary if you get to adwelling house with intent to commit battery or assault under VA Code 18.2-91. Such a crime can be punishable by imprisonment in a state correctional center for one to twenty years. You may also be confined in jail for up to 12 months or ordered to pay a maximum fine of $2,500. Your case might be handled as a Class 2 felony if you were armed at the time of the illegal entry.
Trespassing a Property with an Unmanned Aircraft System (VA Code 18.2-121.3)
Virginia Code 18.2-121.3 asserts that it's illegal to intentionally and knowingly fly an unmanned aircraft system in a person's property. Such a crime could be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor if the aircraft system was hovering 50 feet from the owner's house with a goal of causing intimidation or harassment. You may also be charged for this crime if you received a prior notice to desist from flying the aircraft system.
Posting “No Trespassing” Signs on a Person’s Land (VA Code 18.2-119.1)
Intentionally or knowingly posting “No Trespassing” signs on a person’s land without their consent is considered as an unlawful act under VA Code 18.2-119.1. Such an offense is prosecuted in a Virginia court as a Class 3 misdemeanor. The offender may also be charged for trespass when found guilty of the crime.
Spying or Peeping into an Enclosure or Dwelling (VA Code 18.2-130)
Your case can be handled as a Class 1 misdemeanor if found guilty of peeping or spying into private property under VA Code 18.2-130. You may be convicted for this crime whether the occupant owns or has a lease agreement of the property. The court can also sentence offenders found peeping into motel rooms, hotel rooms or dressing rooms with an intention to view people in their private moments.
Entering a Person's Property to Damage It (VA Code 18.2-121)
Such a crime is considered as a Class 1 misdemeanor under Virginia Code18.2-121. The property can be in the form of temporary or permanent housing. The offense qualifies as a Class 6 offense if it involves damaging property to discriminate the owner's race, religion or nationality. The offender may be sentenced to confinement in state prison for at least six years for the Class 6 felony.
Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Fight Trespassing Charges Near Me
The procedure for prosecuting criminal offenses such as trespassing is usually tiring and intimidating. As a law firm (Virginia Criminal Attorney) operating from Fairfax, VA, we understand that you need legal representation during such trying times. Our attorneys have an extensive background in various criminal defense cases. Contact our Fairfax criminal lawyer today through our number at 703-718-5533 for free consultation.