By: South Sound Law Group

The Difference Between Trespass and Criminal Trespass


Trespassing itself means entering property or going onto land that someone doesn’t have permission to access. As simple as that sounds, there are important distinctions between a trespass charge and a criminal trespass charge. These distinctions can lead to significant differences in consequences. 

What Is Trespass?

Regular trespassing (often referred to as “civil trespassing”) happens when someone accidentally trespasses. For example, a hiker in a state park might inadvertently cross over into adjacent private property. If no signage indicated the park boundaries, the hiker wouldn’t have reason to think they weren’t still in the park. This is regular trespassing. While charges can be brought and lead to jail time and fines, if it can be proved that the hiker had no reason to think they were on private property, there’s a good chance they can avoid conviction. Meeting with a top-rated legal expert for criminal defense in Tacoma can help determine if the trespass falls within inadvertent guidelines. 

What Is Criminal Trespass?

Criminal trespass is the more serious of the two crimes. Someone charged with criminal trespass is believed to have known they were entering private property or restricted areas and did so anyway. If the hiker in the previous section saw a clearly marked sign noting the park boundary and that the land beyond is private property with a warning not to trespass, but the hiker chose to go there anyway, that could be grounds for criminal trespass.

There are two types of criminal trespass charges:

First degree: This is a gross misdemeanor that says the trespasser knowingly entered or stayed unlawfully in a building. Maximum sentences for a conviction include 364 days in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Second degree: This is a misdemeanor that says the trespasser knowingly entered or stayed unlawfully on someone’s property but in such a way that it doesn’t meet first-degree standards. Maximum sentences for a conviction include 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Given that the consequences for criminal trespass are more severe than for regular trespass, involving an attorney as soon as the charges are made is advised. 

Let Us Advise You

If you or someone you know has been charged with trespass or criminal trespass, call us at 253-383-3328 for experienced legal assistance.