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What Is Trespassing?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Trespassing is an illegal act in which a person accesses property that is owned and protected as the property of someone else. There are essentially three types of trespass that can be committed, with numerous specific forms of each type. A trespass to a person is a form of illegal action in which one person intrudes upon the personal space of another person, such as through violent contact or unlawful restraint. There are also forms of trespass against the personal property of another person, such as the land or building owned by another person. Trespassing can also be extended to property that is not necessarily physical in nature, such as a computer trespass.

While trespassing is often considered to be the unwanted presence of one person in another person’s home or property, it can take several other forms as well. A trespass against a person is an act in which one person is physically violating the personal space — rather than property — of another person. Assault, for example, is a form of trespassing against a person, as is the unlawful detainment, restraint, or imprisonment of one person by another.

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One of the most common forms of trespassing involves the property of another person. Someone who illegally enters the home or land of another person, as long as there is some means established to prevent entrance, is committing a trespass. Similarly, a trespass to chattels, which is a legal term for property other than real estate, involves one person damaging or interfering with the property of another. Someone who breaks chattels owned by another person, such as a television or computer, could therefore be liable for trespassing as a civil charge.

Trespassing can also occur in less physical environments, such as instances in which a person may be accused of a computer trespass. This type of trespass does not mean that someone has physically used another person’s computer, though that can be an element of it, but instead indicates a person has gained unauthorized access to a computer system or information. Computer trespassing is typically utilized for cases in which a person is charged as a computer hacker, since he or she has usually gained access to another system in an unauthorized manner. A trespass can also be one element of a larger criminal or civil suit, such as a burglary that may result in both criminal trespass and larceny charges.

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anon351290
Post 9

A friend of mine is renting a house. She had somebody knock on her door selling something so she let them in to talk. After a little while, she told them she wasn't interested and asked them to leave and take their stuff. They did leave but then hid some of their things in the bushes that were at the end of the property because they didn't want to carry them around the rest of the neighborhood.

Her daughter then came home, saw the bags and when she reached in got cut on something sharp inside the bag. Can she sue them for trespass to land even though she had invited them in before. However, she did ask them to leave and take their stuff with them, which they left?

anon320227
Post 8

@anon317125: Just because he has a key doesn't mean he didn't break or enter. Under criminal law, breaking is defined as any force, however slight, to gain entry. This doesn't mean breaking windows or breaking something to gain access. If you blow on a door and it moves, you have caused a breaking.

Entering is defined as entry. You can enter with your body or an extension of your body, such as crow bar or a stick. It doesn't matter what the extension is, as long as you are the reason behind it's entry then you are considered entered. That's about it in a nutshell but there are more requirements.

anon317125
Post 7

Can you charge someone for trespassing if you can't prove they were there? I had an ex-roommate who showed up while we were asleep. He used a copy of his old key to gain entry (so no breaking and entering). He didn't take anything that we are aware of. However, I stumbled upon him at the dead of night, he flung open the garage door and ran away. In his haste, he left his car out in the street.

I did not get a good look at him since it was dark, late, and I was surprised. However, it resembled him, his car was right there, and the fingerprint evidence doesn't mean a thing since he had lived there. The cops are skeptical. How can I make a case the prosecutor would follow up on?

Emilski
Post 6

If someone is arrested for assault, do they actually get charged with some type of trespassing, or is assualt just considered a type of physical trespassing? I guess I have the same thing about hacking into someone's computer.

When it comes to computers, it wouldn't be considered breaking a trespassing law if you just turned on someone's computer and use it, would it? What if they had a password on the computer, but you either knew the password or figured it out without using some type of hacking program?

I'm sure all of those situations have happened at one time or another. It seems to me that turning on a computer or figuring out a password would sort of be like going into someone's house that wasn't locked or them giving you the key. I'm pretty sure in those cases, it's not considered breaking and entering, so what about with computers?

JimmyT
Post 5

@jmc88 - From what I have read, I can't really tell a difference between civil and criminal trespassing at the most basic level. Civil trespassing is just intruding on someone's space and usually just comes with a fine or warning. Criminal trespassing is defined as entering property without the owner's consent.

As far as I can tell, wondering into someone's forest by accident would probably be civil trespassing. If you broke into someone's house or didn't leave their property after they told you to, I assume that's when it would turn criminal. I'm not sure, but maybe a sign outside of a road leading to someone's property would help turn it from a civil into criminal case.

jmc88
Post 4

@TreeMan - I'm not sure of the exact Texas laws, but I think the law says you can use deadly force on a trespasser, but can't shoot them, and it is only at night. I'm sure there have been a lot of controversial cases over this.

What exactly constitutes criminal trespassing? I hear this term used a lot, but have never really been sure what it means. Also, if you intend to charge someone for a crime of trespassing on your property, do you have to have a no trespassing sign, or is it just assumed?

TreeMan
Post 3

@indemnifyme - One of the big issues now is whether a person has the right to use physical violence or even shoot someone who is trespassing on their property if they think they are in danger. I may be wrong, but the last I heard, you could legally shoot trespassers in Texas.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. One one hand, the people shouldn't be trespassing, but on the other hand, trespassing usually isn't a major crime in and of itself. It's definitely not worth shooting someone over.

sunnySkys
Post 2

@indemnifyme - I think it really depends on the circumstances of the case. I don't feel comfortable making a blanket statement that no trespassers should be able to sue unless I know the specifics. For example, what if the trespassers didn't know they were trespassing?

Either way, willful trespassing is pretty lame. Also, here in the United States, I've only ever heard the term trespassing used to refer to trespassing on someone property, not their person. But I assume the term is probably used differently in other countries.

indemnifyme
Post 1

I've heard of a few lawsuits where trespassers were injured, and sued the property owners for negligence. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, they won!

This makes no sense to me. In fact, I think that if someone trespasses on another person property, it serves them right if they sustain some kind of injury! I think it speaks really ill of our justice system that a trespasser could win a crime and then turn around and sue their victim and win. This type of thing should be illegal.

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