COVID-19 has changed many things about the way people go about their daily lives. From grocery shopping to going camping for the weekend, things seem to be constantly changing. Well, most recently, spending the weekend in a Texas park just got a little more complicated.
Texas Parks and Wildlife announced that their parks are open for day use and limited camping. Now, if you wish to take advantage of the park, you need to make arrangements ahead of time by reserving a day pass online or calling. For camping, you need a pre-booked reservation, too.
Ignoring these new procedures could open you up to criminal trespass charges. Here’s what you need to know about criminal trespass in Texas and the penalties you could face if convicted.
Criminal Trespass Under Texas Law
In Texas, criminal trespass is defined as a person entering or remaining on the property of another. This can include agricultural land, residential, recreational vehicle parks, vehicles, and buildings.
The key is that being on the property is not with the consent of the person who owns the property or:
- There was a notice to depart issued but it was not followed
- There was a notice that entry was forbidden
In the context of this law, a notice is defined as any of the following:
- Written/oral communication by a property owner or someone with acting authority
- Signs posted on a building or property indicating that entrance is forbidden
- Fencing or another type of enclosure designed to keep people out or to contain livestock
- The visible presence of a crop in the process of being harvested, under cultivation, or marketable if harvested on the property
- Identifying marks with purple paint on trees or posts on a property readily visible to a person approaching and no more than 100 feet apart in forests or 1,000 feet apart on other lands
When it comes to criminal trespass, you need not have the intent to commit any other crime other than trespassing or actually commit another crime while trespassing to be arrested.
Charges and Penalties for Criminal Trespass
In Texas, criminal trespass is generally a Class B misdemeanor, but what level of crime you’re charged with, either lower or higher, depends on where the trespass occurred.
You may be charged with a Class C misdemeanor if the trespass was committed on agricultural land or residential land that is within 100 feet of a protected freshwater area.
You may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor is the trespass occurred in a dwelling, on a Superfund site, in a critical infrastructure facility, or at a family violence shelter.
You can also be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for trespass if you carry a deadly weapon with you when committing the crime.
Penalties for Class A misdemeanors are up to one year in prison and fines up to $4,000. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 6 months in jail while a Class C misdemeanor can result in up to $500 in fines but no jail time.
In sum, a walk in the park isn’t just a walk in the park these days – you probably need to reserve a time, first. Moreover, the situation surrounding stay at home orders and COVID-19 is constantly changing.
Make sure to check the rules surrounding public areas and what you must do to access them. Or else you might find yourself in legal trouble.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.