Criminal Trespass & Criminal Mischief: Definitions & Laws

Instructor: Ken Klamar

I have been a certified police officer since 1993 and have a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration. I also have obtained my Master's degree in Criminal Behavior Analysis from the University of Cincinnati.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the crimes of criminal trespass and criminal mischief. We'll explain how laws apply to different circumstances and how particular behavior dictates the charging level.

Criminal Trespass

Tom owns ABC Construction. His competitor, XYZ Construction, recently began construction on a new building in the town where Tom lives. Tom wonders why XYZ got the contract for this job. He decides to go to the job site after they quit for the day to see what they do differently. When Tom arrives at the job site late at night, he sees that XYZ Construction has erected a six foot fence around the construction site. They also hung handmade signs that read 'KEEP OUT.' Tom scales the fence at the back of the property and looks around the shell of a building. He does not notice that his actions are being recorded by surveillance cameras. The police arrest Tom the next morning.

Definition and Elements

In the example above, Tom committed an act of criminal trespass. You can be charged with criminal trespass if it can be proven that you entered or remained on someone else's property without permission. In the example above, Tom scaled a fence to get onto the property. This would not be a crime if Tom had the privilege to be there. For example, if the owner gave Tom permission to be on the property, then scaling the fence is not a crime.

A person's mental state is considered before bringing forth the charge of criminal trespass. If a person acts knowingly when entering or remaining on someone's property, he can be culpable for this action. This means that the offender must know that his conduct is prohibited before he committed the act. Seeing a 'no trespassing' sign and then entering or remaining on a property is an example of acting knowingly. You can also be charged with criminal trespass if you enter or remain on land that's use is restricted to certain persons, hours, modes, or purposes. If a business posts hours as 8 AM to 4 PM and you enter the premises outside of those hours, you could be trespassing.

Another thing that is considered is whether or not a person acts recklessly. If an offender's actions are reckless and if the offender acted with indifference to the consequences, a criminal trespass charge could apply. For example, you are reckless if you enter or remain in a place after being told not to be there. You are also considered reckless when notice against trespassing is posted. Lastly, you are reckless if the property in question has a fencing or enclosure around it that is designed to restrict access.

Additionally, you can be charged for refusing to leave after being notified by signage or by actual communication. For example, if you are on talking with a neighbor on his property and refuse to leave after being asked to do so, you could be charged with criminal trespass.

The punishment for a person convicted of criminal trespass varies by state. In most states, criminal trespass is a misdemeanor but can be elevated if there is extensive property damage, injury to a person, or if the person is a repeat offender.

Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief is a crime that involves moving, damaging, defacing, destroying, or tampering with the property of another person. This crime, similar to criminal trespassing, requires that you act knowingly and without privilege to do so. So here again, you would have to know that what you are doing is wrong, and you must not have had the authorization of the property owner prior to committing the act. Under this law, you cannot damage your own property under certain circumstances. For example, if you damage property that is subject to a mortgage, or if you have been served with a notice of foreclosure, you could be charged for damaging property.

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