What Is Considered Trespassing in Virginia?
In Virginia, trespassing occurs when an individual enters or remains on someone else’s property without authorization or after being explicitly told not to do so.
This can encompass a wide range of situations, from being charged with trespass for walking in a park at night to returning to such lands after receiving a warning not to trespass, even if you behaved in an otherwise lawful manner.
In essence, trespassing laws in Virginia are designed to protect the rights of property owners and maintain public safety. They determine what constitutes unauthorized entry or presence on another person’s property. They also determine the authorized use of such land and property.
If you’re dealing with trespassing charges in Virginia, getting in touch with an unlawful entry lawyer from our team at Scrofano Law, PC, can be especially helpful. Our experienced attorneys can provide legal guidance and build a strong defense tailored to your specific situation, ensuring your rights are protected throughout the legal process.
Understanding Virginia Trespassing Laws
In Virginia, trespassing is considered a criminal offense governed by several laws within the Code of Virginia. It’s important to note that trespassing charges typically apply to private property rather than publicly owned buildings or public access areas.
However, trespassing offenses may also occur on church or school property. Additionally, remaining on someone’s dwelling or occupied building or property after being asked to leave qualifies as trespassing.
One key statute, Virginia Code 18.2-119, outlines that entering or remaining on another person’s land is unlawful after encountering signs forbidding trespass. Further, Virginia Code 18.2-121 classifies trespassing with the intention to interfere with or damage property as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Such interest shows a clear violation of property rights.
Moreover, individuals can be convicted for conspiring to enter other people’s property under Virginia Code 18.2-23 or engaging in acts that encourage trespassing under Virginia Code 18.2-120.
When on another person’s property, it’s essential to respect the rights of the owner or any person lawfully in charge of the premises. If you are asked to leave, you are legally required to do so to avoid trespassing charges.
Which Court Handles Trespassing Cases in Virginia?
Trespassing charges in Virginia can lead to legal proceedings at various levels of the judicial system, depending on the severity of the offense:
- General District Courts: Misdemeanor trespassing offenses are typically adjudicated at the General District Court. This court has jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal offenses, including trespassing, as well as other less serious property crimes.
- Circuit Courts: When trespassing charges escalate to felonies, they are taken up by the Circuit Courts. If convicted in a Circuit Court, you may face more severe penalties, including the possibility of imprisonment in a state correctional facility rather than a local or regional jail.
What Are the Penalties for Trespassing Offenses in Virginia?
Virginia trespassing laws categorize offenses based on severity, ranging from Class 1 to Class 4 misdemeanors for less impactful violations and potentially Class 6 felonies for more severe cases. Here’s a concise breakdown of the penalties for various trespassing crimes:
- Trespassing Despite Warnings: Intruding on property despite warnings is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If guilty of a Class 1 offense, you may face up to a $2,500 fine and 12 months in jail. If done with discriminatory intent, it may become a Class 6 felony, leading to a 5-year prison term.
- Trespassing on Posted Property: Trespassing on property marked with no-trespassing signs is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- Trespassing Involving Cemeteries: Willfully blocking a cemetery’s entrance is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties including a fine of up to $2,500 and a 12-month jail sentence. Nighttime trespassing is a Class 4 misdemeanor.
- Trespassing on School Property: Trespassing on school property after seeing a notice is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Abduction of a school child due to trespass may lead to a Class 6 felony. Nighttime trespassing on school buses or property can be a Class 3 misdemeanor.
- Trespassing on Church Property: intentionally trespassing on church property is a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, if the trespassing involves vandalism, theft, or other criminal activities, additional charges and penalties may apply.
- Trespassing Related to Hunting and Fishing: Unauthorized hunting or trapping in a state-owned forest is a Class 3 misdemeanor. If guilty of a Class 3 offense, you may be subject to a $500 fine. Trespassing with intent to fish is also a Class 3 misdemeanor. Trespassing on hunting/fishing grounds without proper signage may result in a 12-month jail term or a $2,500 fine.
- Trespassing on Transportation: Trespassing on a train or other public transport systems is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Railroad trespass may also be treated as a Class 4 misdemeanor. If guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor trespassing, you may be subject to a $250 fine.
How Our Attorneys at Scrofano Law PC Can Help
Individuals can face wrongful trespassing charges even when they didn’t intend to break the law. To secure a fair outcome in your case, our criminal defense lawyers can use effective defenses tailored to your case:
Lack of Signs or Enclosure: Virginia Code §18.2-119 requires signs or enclosures for trespassing charges. Your defense may argue there were no such signs on the property, potentially leading to charge dismissal.
No Disruption of Peace: Disorderly trespass, as provided for in §18.2-11, hinges on intent to disrupt peace. Defending against this charge may involve showing your activities on the property did not disrupt peace.
Owner’s Consent: Charges may be dismissed if you prove owner consent. However, extended stays without the permission of such person can lead to a conviction.
Legal Right: Demonstrating a legal right to be on the property is a strong defense. Certain activities, like labor organizing or participating in legal unions, are protected by Virginia law. The First Amendment offers protection for free expression activities.
These defenses can be crucial in achieving a favorable outcome in your trespassing case. To explore your defense options for your trespassing case, contact us today for a consultation with our experienced legal team at Scrofano Law, PC.
If you were found guilty of trespassing, an attorney can assess your case to see if it qualifies for record expungement in DC.
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