Trespassing laws exist both to protect property owners from unwanted intrusions and to ensure public safety – but not everybody understands just how serious a trespassing offense can be.
It’s particularly important for young people to understand what trespassing means and what a conviction for trespassing can cause. What may seem like a fairly harmless (if mischievous) act can actually lead to significant legal complications if they’re caught.
What is trespassing?
Every state defines the issue a little differently. Broadly speaking, Virginia Code § 18.2-119 says that, unless you are acting with legal authority, enter or remain on any premises (indoors or outdoors) after having been forbidden to do so by the owner, property manager or any other person who is in charge. The notice that your presence is unwelcome can be communicated orally or in writing, and need not be directed specifically at you to be valid.
In practical terms, what does this look like? It can involve things like:
- Ignoring a “No Trespassing” sign on an empty building so that you can do some “urban exploring” for a photography project
- Deciding to take a chance with a shortcut through a neighbor’s property after being told before that you are not permitted to do so
- Camping, hunting or fishing on someone’s unoccupied land despite the presence of “No Trespassing” signs
- Ignoring a bar ban and returning to an establishment after you were already asked to leave by the bartender and told not to return
- Refusing to leave a restaurant or an entertainment venue after you’ve been asked to leave because you were rowdy
- Sneaking through the back door of a club because you were refused entrance at the door
If you’re charged with trespassing and convicted, it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor. While that allows you to avoid having a felony record, the potential penalties are pretty stiff. You can still face a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail. That’s significant for anybody, which makes it wise to seek experienced legal guidance so that you can fully explore your defense options.