Criminal trespass, in a nutshell, is a crime that forbids unlawfully entering onto another person's property. In New Jersey, the concept of trespassing is complex - there are different forms of this offense that are determined based on the intentions of the intruder, the type of property entered, and other relevant factors.
Many people are under the impression that trespassing is a minor offense. But it can potentially be a serious crime that could land you jail or prison time in New Jersey. If you have been charged with criminal trespass, it's important you understand the gravity of this crime and the penalties associated with it.
What Constitutes Criminal Trespass in New Jersey?
According to Illinois statute N.J.S.A 2C:18-3, there are three basic types of criminal trespassing in New Jersey:
- Defiant trespassing: A person commits this crime when he or she has been warned not to trespass, but still chooses to enter the property anyways. The warning could have been explicit (a verbal warning, through signage) or implicit (a fence that is designed to keep intruders out). For example, if a building has a sign that says “keep out,” and you and your friends enter anyways to see what's on the property, you can be charged with defiant trespassing.
- Unlicensed entry of structures: A person commits this crime if he or she enters or remains in a research facility, structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof knowing that they are not licensed or privileged to do so. This crime is more serious than defiant trespassing merely because New Jersey law references a certain type of property. Perhaps you're an English student at a university who wants to check out a cool-looking laboratory you pass every day. But only science majors are authorized to enter. You take it upon yourself to enter the property while no one is around. If caught, you can be charged with the unlicensed entry of structures. A conviction of this crime hinges upon if you entered the following areas:
- A dwelling
- A power generation facility
- A waste treatment facility
- A research facility
- A public sewage facility
- An airport sterile area or operational area etc.
- Peering: Peering is the act of looking into a window or any other opening of a building “for the purpose of invading the privacy of another person and under circumstances in which a reasonable person in the dwelling or other structure would not expect to be observed.” Peering is a significant invasion of privacy and is, therefore, the most serious of all criminal trespass crimes.
Criminal Trespass Penalties in New Jersey
A criminal trespass charge is serious and can expose you to harsh repercussions, including fines, probation, community service, and a jail or prison sentence. The severity of this crime depends upon the type of charge:
Defiant trespassing is a petty disorderly offense, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The unlicensed entry of structures is also a disorderly persons offense, which carries penalties of up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But if this crime was committed on school property, a research facility, a nuclear chemical plant, or a utility company, it will be classified as a fourth-degree crime - punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Peering is a fourth-degree crime, which carries penalties of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Potential Legal Defenses for Criminal Trespass Charges
The property entered is abandoned. Abandoned property isn't technically occupied by anybody else, so a defendant can't be convicted for entering an abandoned property.
The place was open to the public, and the defendant gained access in a way that was lawful. Property that is open to the public is free game. As long as the defendant didn't illegally enter, then they can't be prosecuted for criminal trespass.
The defendant legitimately and reasonably believed he or she had a right to be there. If the owner of the property asked a defendant to come and then immediately after they arrive the owner changed their mind, the defendant can't be charged with criminal trespass.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys
Now you know to what extent criminal trespass charges are taken in the state of New Jersey. A conviction of this crime can land you behind bars. To avoid a conviction and the legal and collateral repercussions associated with one, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
If you're looking for quality legal representation, the Lento Law Firm is the ideal firm for you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and credentials to defend and counsel people who've acquired stalking charges. He will explain your pending charges, build a solid defense and work towards getting your charges reduced or dropped. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm either online or by phone at 888-535-3686.