Can You Be Arrested for Trespassing If the Property Is Abandoned?
You may not realize it, but trespassing in New Jersey is a very serious offense that could result in you being arrested. That’s because the NJ criminal trespassing law specifically prohibits anyone from entering a structure without permission to do so. It is not uncommon for a person who gets lost to accidentally wander into an unauthorized area. Depending on the circumstances, you could be placed under arrest and charged with criminal trespassing.
Moreover, you can potentially be arrested if you are caught trespassing on an abandoned property. Although this is not supposed to happen, the reality is that NJ law enforcement has a tendency to err on the side of caution when it comes to trespassing offenses. This means that you may face trespassing charges even though it’s not technically a crime to trespass on premises that have been abandoned.
Affirmative Defenses to Trespassing Charges in New Jersey
If you are arrested, a qualified criminal defense attorney may be able to help you beat the charges by raising certain defenses on your behalf. One affirmative defense is that the structure was abandoned, which means that the owner vacated the property and had no intention of returning to or reclaiming the property. In fact, the NJ criminal trespassing statute explicitly provides for this affirmative defense. However, raising this argument in court often requires a very nuanced understanding of trespassing laws in New Jersey.
Additionally, other possible affirmative defenses to a trespassing charge include the following:
· You reasonably and legitimately believed you had a legal right to be on the premises. This typically occurs when the owner has given you permission to set foot on the property.
· The property was open to the public and you acted lawfully at all times while gaining access to the property and/or while remaining on the property.
Severe Penalties for Trespassing Offenses in NJ
N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3 stipulates that criminal trespassing is a disorderly persons offense in most cases. This means that an individual convicted of trespassing could potentially be sentenced to six months in the local county jail.
If the property was being used as a dwelling at the time of the trespass, the charges can be elevated to a fourth degree felony. The consequences of a conviction for an indictable felony-level offense in New Jersey are severe: you could be sentenced to 18 months in NJ State Prison.
In certain instances, trespassing is classified as a petty disorderly persons offense and carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in the county jail and a permanent criminal charge on your record. For instance, a person who returns to an Atlantic City casino after having been warned to stay off the premises can be charged with defiant trespassing and face these penalties.
If you have been charged with trespassing, burglary, or any other property crime in Atlantic County, New Jersey, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney handling your case. The experienced, aggressive criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty can help you fight your charges. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.