Criminal Trespass Attorney in Georgia

A faded warning sign reading Keep Out No Trespassing on an old wooden post with blue sky in the background

Criminal trespass is a statutory offense under the Criminal Code of Georgia. While the charge is a misdemeanor, penalties may include a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 12 months in jail. As with any criminal record, a trespass conviction also can have adverse consequences beyond the penalties.

If you face a trespass charge in Georgia, you should discuss your case with our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia. Navigating the Georgia criminal process without a lawyer is extremely difficult, from both procedural and substantive perspectives. Our lawyers understand the legal complexities of the trespass statute and know what the prosecutor must prove for a conviction. Our years of criminal defense experience enable us to develop an effective strategy for defending against a trespass charge.

Criminal Trespass Statutory Provisions

The trespass statute is part of Chapter 7 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, titled Damage to and Intrusion on Property. Section 16-7-21 specifically addresses Criminal Trespass.

Subsection a provides that a person commits criminal trespass if they (1) cause $500 or less in damages to another person’s property without their consent, or (2) “knowingly and maliciously” interfere with another person’s possession or use of their property without their consent.

Subsection b further provides that a person commits criminal trespass if they “knowingly and without authority” engage in any of the following types of conduct: (1) Enter the land or premises of another person, or into any part of another person’s vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft, for an unlawful purpose; (2) Enter the same types of property after receiving notice from an authorized person that the entry is forbidden; or (3) Remain on the land, premises, or property after receiving notice to depart from an authorized person.

In addition, subsection e provides that a person commits criminal trespass by intentionally defacing, mutilating, or defiling a grave marker, plaque, monument, or memorial of a deceased person who served in the military or that honors military service, if the item is privately owned and located on private property.

For purposes of the offense of trespass, the statute provides that permission given by a minor to enter property is inadequate to legally constitute permission to enter, when a parent is not present or has previously given notice that entry is forbidden.

Conduct That Constitutes Criminal Trespass

The complex statutory provisions establish multiple different reasons that a person may be charged with criminal trespass. In more simple terms, a person may be charged with the offense for any of the following:

  • Intentional property damage of $500 or less
  • Intentionally interfering with another person’s possession or use of their property
  • Intentional (knowing) and unauthorized entry for an unlawful purpose
  • Entering property after receiving notice that entry is forbidden
  • Remaining on property after receiving notice to depart
  • Damaging a military grave marker or memorial

Criminal trespass can also be prosecuted under the family violence statute in Title 19, Chapter 13. Which provision of the statutes applies in an individual case depends on the circumstances that led to the charges. Regardless of which section or statute a defendant allegedly violated, the law requires specific elements to be proven. Those elements provide the basis for a lawyer to establish a defense for a specific case.

Defending Against a Trespass Charge

For each type of trespass, the statutory provisions establish specific elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecutor. In most situations, the offense of trespass requires that a person enters or remains on property without authorization from the owner. Specific intent also often must be established.

If a person was not aware that they are on private premises, that lack of knowledge can negate the required intent for commission of the offense. In addition, if a person had permission to be on the property, that fact also may negate a necessary element of the offense. Any legal occupation of property provides a defense to a trespass charge.

Georgia courts have written numerous decisions interpreting the trespass statute. Those decisions may provide a defense in a specific case, depending on the facts surrounding the charges. For example, court opinions establish that the property owner must give reasonable and explicit notice concerning the property that persons are not allowed to enter. If the notice was unclear or ambiguous, those circumstances may constitute a defense to a trespass charge. Other court decisions may similarly apply to the facts in a specific case.

An individual is often arrested for criminal trespass when the accused relies on permission given to enter property after someone who appears to have authority authorizes the entry. Criminal trespass frequently arises in rural areas where individuals hike, fish, or hunt on another person’s property. While these violations can be prosecuted as violations of the game and fish laws, they are often prosecuted under the criminal trespass statute. Mistake of fact is almost always a viable defense under these circumstances.

Developing a defense to a trespass charge requires not only knowledge of the statutory provisions but also an understanding of the vast body of Georgia case law that applies in trespass cases. For that reason alone, assistance from a criminal defense attorney is necessary to defend against a trespass charge. However, defending against a criminal case also requires an understanding of procedural rules of court, as well as local practices and policies of judges and prosecutors, which is an additional reason you need legal counsel.

Schedule a Consultation with a Georgia Trespass Defense Attorney

If you face a criminal trespass charge in Georgia, a strong defense strategy is essential. At The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our extensive criminal defense experience includes handling numerous trespass cases of all types of situations. We review your situation, identify the best defenses and strategy for you case, and protect your rights throughout the criminal process. We handle every case with unparalleled confidentiality, professionalism, and integrity.

Based in Cartersville, we serve clients throughout Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, and Gordon County. We welcome you to contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia to schedule an appointment.