Just the other day, we reviewed burglary in Pennsylvania. Since we were onto property crimes, I thought: let’s discuss Criminal Trespass.

A big issue in burglary prosecutions is the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant had the intent to commit a crimes in the property at the time he entered the property. As I previously wrote, the crime cannot be breaking into the property.

What happens when breaking into the property is the only thing that happens? For example, someone is drunk and goes into the wrong house. The person’s key doesn’t seem to work. In their drunken state, they don’t realize they are at the wrong house, so they climb into the window and pass-out on the couch. In the middle of the night, the homeowner sees the person on the couch and calls the cops. This may be Criminal Trespass.

The statute is as follows and does not include any trespass information regarding agricultural crimes:

§ 3503. Criminal trespass.
(a) Buildings and occupied structures.–

(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he:

(i) enters, gains entry by subterfuge or surreptitiously remains in any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof; or

(ii) breaks into any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.

(2) An offense under paragraph (1)(i) is a felony of the third degree, and an offense under paragraph (1)(ii) is a felony of the second degree.
(3) As used in this subsection:
“Breaks into.” To gain entry by force, breaking, intimidation, unauthorized opening of locks, or through an opening not designed for human access.

(b) Defiant trespasser.–

(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:

(i) actual communication to the actor;
(ii) posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders;
(iii) fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders;
(iv) notices posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention at each entrance of school grounds that visitors are prohibited without authorization from a designated school, center or program official; or
(v) an actual communication to the actor to leave school grounds as communicated by a school, center or program official, employee or agent or a law enforcement officer.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(v), an offense under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree if the offender defies an order to leave personally communicated to him by the owner of the premises or other authorized person. An offense under paragraph (1)(v) constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree. Otherwise it is a summary offense.

(b.1) Simple trespasser.–

(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place for the purpose of:

(i) threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises;
(ii) starting or causing to be started any fire upon the premises;
(iii) defacing or damaging the premises; or
(iv) unlawfully taking secondary metal from the premises.

(2) An offense under paragraph (1)(iv) constitutes a first degree misdemeanor. An offense under paragraph (1)(i), (ii) or (iii) constitutes a summary offense.

The argument from our example above is: the person is not guilty of burglary because they had no intent to commit a crime when they entered the property, and the person is not guilty of criminal trespass because  he didn’t “knowingly” enter the property. A savvy prosecutor will see her ship sinking, and quickly ask for defiant trespass under  3503 (b)(1)(i) by arguing: when the homeowner saw the person asleep the homeowner woke them or attempted to wake the person on the couch and the person still didn’t leave. The homeowner communicated to the person to leave the house.

2 comments on “Criminal Trespass

  1. For the purpose of the right to distribute religious literature, is the public sidewalk outside a school school property? Also does the person have the right to give the literature to children as well as adults?

    1. This is a very hard question to answer. I need much more information. The factors that would control my decision would be whether the school is public or private, whether there is a local ordinance, how far away you are from the school, and the nature of the literature handed to the children. Feel free to fill out a contact form and I will email you back.

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