“Get off My Property” – The Law on Trespass and Burglary
Trespassing is a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2500.
Trespassing often comes to mind when people come home and see other people either cutting across their yard or playing some kind of sport or game in their yard. It is natural to assume that these people are trespassers under the law and that they can be issued a summons or arrested for trespassing.
That, however, is not the law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In order for someone to be considered a trespasser, the law requires that they have been given prior notice that they are not allowed to be where they are. There are several ways for property owners to give notice. First, you can clearly post signs on your property that state “no trespassing.” Another option is to notify the person directly either orally or in writing that you do not want them to be present on your property. Department stores and grocery stores routinely use this method. When someone is suspected of shoplifting in a store, the store often issues a written notification to the person that they are no longer welcome on store property and will be reported to the police if they return. This serves as the required notice under the law.
Burglary is another crime involving intrusions on property.
Burglary is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The law on burglary depends on whether the burglary is committed during the daytime or at night. To be guilty of a burglary that occurred at night, the law requires that the person (1) has entered your home and (2) intended to commit another crime inside your home. Typically these other crimes are larceny or assault, but any other crime can support a burglary charge. Very minimal acts of the burglary can be considered entry into the home. Simply putting a finger through an open window or taking one step inside the home is sufficient to prove entry into the home.
When the burglary occurs during daylight hours, the law requires an additional element of “breaking’in order to gain access to the home. “Breaking” has a very unique definition under the law of burglary. For example, pushing open an already partially opened door or using a key to unlock a door can constitute a “breaking” under the law. Smashing windows or kicking in the door obviously also constitute a breaking, but the law does not require that the actions be so extreme.
Burglary and trespassing seem like simple and familiar concepts. However, it is important to understand their very specialized legal definitions.