In Florida, you may be charged with criminal trespass if you are asked to leave a business or other property, or if the yard or other property is fenced off or has signs posted warning that you are not permitted on the property. This includes the “employees only” signs at a business as well as “no entry” signs posted on yards. Some properties such as schools generally are not open to the public.You may even be charged with a felony if you are trespassing while in the possession of a gun, or even if you are unarmed but on school property without permission.
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Trespass Lawyer
If you have been charged with criminal trespass in Broward County, a Fort Lauderdale criminal trespass defense lawyer at Meltzer & Bell can help you fight the charges. Criminal trespass convictions come with harsh consequences, and a successful defense against any of these charges takes someone with knowledge of the numerous elements of an criminal trespass case.
The dedicated attorneys at Meltzer & Bell fight on behalf of people in and around Broward County, including such areas as Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Deerfield Beach, Davie and Coral Springs. Call (954) 765-6585 now to have the firm review your case during a free and confidential initial consultation.
Information About Criminal Trespass Charges
- What is Criminal Trespassing?
- Penalties for Criminal Trespass in Florida
- Defenses to Criminal Trespass Charges
What is Criminal Trespassing?
Criminal trespassing in Florida is a property crime that is defined as entering or remaining on the property of another person without permission, after receiving notice that entry is not allowed. This notice can take the form of a general notice such as a “no entry” sign, or you can be specifically told to leave the property. The property can be a building, land or vehicle. If you are ordered to stay off the property of a business, residence or anywhere else, you can be arrested and charged with criminal trespass if you enter the property again or do not leave immediately.
Unfortunately, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” does not always apply in criminal trespass cases in Florida. In some situations, you will be presumed guilty until you prove yourself innocent of criminal trespass.
Fla. Stat. § 810.12(1) states that unauthorized entry onto land that is fenced in or posted with “no entry” or similar signs is “prima facie evidence of trespass.” This means it is up to you and your Broward County criminal defense lawyer to present substantial contradictory evidence in court to avoid a conviction for of criminal trespass. The most common way to do this is to present evidence that you were actually given permission or invited onto the property by the owner.
If an employee or other person authorized by you to drive or operate a vehicle, machine such as a tractor, tool or animal ventures onto land that is fenced in or posted with “no entry” or similar signs, Fla. Stat. § 810.12(2) states that this is “prima facie evidence” that you caused or procured an act of criminal trespass. Your Broward County defense lawyer must demonstrate to the judge or jury why you should not be held responsible for a criminal trespass committed by your employee or other person.
If you are entering onto property to unlawfully dump litter, Fla. Stat. § 810.12(5) states this is prima facie evidence of your intention to commit criminal trespass. If litter is found on property that contains mail or other items with your name and address, and there is other evidence indicating that you may have committed criminal trespass, this creates a rebuttable presumption that you committed criminal trespass. In these instances, you must prove how the litter got there without you committing criminal trespass, or otherwise demonstrate that you did not commit the crime.
Penalties for Criminal Trespass in Florida
Trespassing penalties depend mainly on what type of property you are trespassing on and other factors such as whether the building was occupied and whether the trespasser was armed.
Criminal trespass is a second-degree misdemeanor if the property is an unoccupied building or vehicle. However, you can be charged with the much more serious crime of burglary if you trespass in a building or vehicle with the intent of committing another crime.
The offense also could be a second-degree misdemeanor if you are within 500 feet of a school during or within an hour of school hours, and you are not a resident, business operator or employee, or have other permission or “legitimate business.” This could be punishable by 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.
Criminal trespass is a first-degree misdemeanor if:
- A resident or other authorized person is present in the building or conveyance, such as a boat or motor home;
- “No entry” or similar signs are posted around the area;
- You remove or deface “no trespassing” or similar signs;
- The area is fenced off;
- The area is cultivated agricultural land;
- The property is a yard around a residence, even if not fenced off, and the trespasser enters or remains with the intent to commit another offense on the property;
- The trespasser defies a personally communicated order to leave from the property owner or other authorized person;
- The trespasser willfully opens any door, fence, or gate or does any other act that exposes animals, crops, or other property to waste, destruction, or freedom; or
- The trespasser unlawfully dumps litter on the property.
Conviction of criminal trespass as a first-degree misdemeanor can result in one year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
Criminal trespass becomes a third-degree felony if:
- The trespasser is armed with a gun or other dangerous weapon;
- The area is a construction site, horticultural site, agricultural site designated for testing or research purposes, agricultural chemicals manufacturing facility or domestic violence center and a sign is posted identifying it as such and warning that trespassing is a felony;
- A person fires a bullet, arrow, crossbow bolt or other potentially lethal projectile across private property without permission while shooting at animals; or
- A person is on school property without specific permission or “legitimate business.”
Criminal trespass as a third degree felony can be penalized by up to five years in prison, up to $5,000 in fines or both.
Trespassers may also be legally detained by property owners, supervisors, employees or other people authorized by the owner or supervisor if the trespasser is armed with a gun or other dangerous weapon or if a person is trespassing on school property.
In these situations, the person detaining the trespasser also is protected from civil lawsuits, as are owners and operators of agricultural land where a trespasser becomes injured, even in situations where the farmer was negligent.
Defenses to Criminal Trespass Charges
The most common defense to a charge of criminal trespass is to demonstrate you had permission to be on the property. For example, if one owner of a jointly-owned or rented property gives you permission to be on the property, you should not be convicted of criminal trespass if one of the other property owners calls the police and has you arrested.
If you are told to leave the property, the person telling you must be the owner, renter, one of their employees or someone else authorized by them. Even a police officer does not have the power to order you to leave private property, for purposes of the criminal trespass law, if the property owner, operator or employee has not asked you to leave. For example, if you get into an argument at a bar and a police officer tells you to leave the bar but you do not, you should not be convicted of criminal trespass unless the prosecution can prove that the bartender or other employee told you to leave.
You may be able to use your job as a defense. For instance, if you are a meter reader for a utility company or a process server, you may be able to avoid a criminal trespass conviction for entering a yard or building where most people are not normally permitted to be. An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can help you build a solid defense against the charges.
Finding the Best Criminal Trespass Attorney in Broward County
If you have been charged with criminal trespass in Florida, you will want to make sure that you obtain legal representation as soon as possible. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell aggressively defends clients in Sunrise, Pompano Beach, Margate, Coconut Creek, Tamarac, Wilton Manors, Weston and the greater Fort Lauderdale area.
Our firm has more than two decades of combined experience in Broward County courts, including time spent on both sides of the courtroom. Let our Fort Lauderdale criminal attorneys review your case during a free consultation. Call (954) 765-6585 today to schedule your case evaluation.