A conviction for trespass carries the possibility of a jail sentence.Elements of Trespass
In order to convict a defendant of trespass, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant, without legal right, entered or remained in a building, in a dwelling house, on a piece of land, or on the boat of another person; and
- The defendant was prohibited from entering or remaining on the other person’s property and had received notice either directly or by means of a posted “no trespass” notice.
The defendant did not need to see the “no trespassing” notice in order to be convicted. The Commonwealth must prove only that there was a specific notice that prohibited trespass and it was posted in a place where a reasonably careful trespasser would notice it. The assistant district attorney ordinarily will present photographic evidence of posted signs, or have a police officer testify that the defendant was orally ordered not to enter the land.
A defendant is considered to be on direct notice not to trespass if the property owner secured the property with walls, fences, locked doors, or locked gates.
A dwelling house is any building where people live. Dwelling houses include apartments, single family homes, duplexes, hospital rooms, hotel rooms, boarding houses, dormitories, and tenement buildings.Common Defenses and Defense Strategies
Trespass cases can be defended in a variety of ways.
- Lack of notice is the most common defense used during the trial of these cases. Defendants often argue that they were not aware they were trespassing because they were not placed on direct notice and there were insufficient signs to advise them they were trespassing.
- Bias – Trespass notices are often issued between feuding neighbors or disgruntled ex-spouses. Therefore, the property owners will typically be biased against the defendant and will have a motive to lie about the defendant trespassing on their property. Attorney Spring will fully examine any bias or motive to lie during his cross-examination of the property owner.
- While a conviction for trespassing carries potentially serious consequences, it is a relatively minor crime. Prosecutors can sometimes be convinced to dismiss these cases upon the payment of court costs if the defendant does not have a lengthy criminal record. Attorney Spring will attempt to convince prosecutors that dismissal of these charges is appropriate in your case. Attorney Spring also recognizes that trespass charges are often filed against high school or college kids who end up on private property. He describes his clients’ personal history to the prosecutor in an effort to convince the prosecutor that a criminal conviction is a disproportionate punishment for the crime.
While trespass is not the most serious crime in Massachusetts, a conviction can lead to jail, and a guilty finding on a criminal record could result in lost employment, educational, or housing opportunities. If you are charged with trespass, you should take the case seriously and hire an experienced defense attorney to represent you. Attorney Chris Spring has handled hundreds of trespass cases in his career, as a defense attorney and a prosecutor, and will be able to guide you through the criminal process.