In California, you can be charged with a crime for making a credible threat to harm another person defined under Penal Code 422 PC.
But if you make such a threat and then enter someone's home or workplace to carry out that threat, you can be charged with the separate crime of aggravated trespass defined under Penal Code 601 PC. Depending on the circumstances, you could face up to three years in jail if convicted.
To be convicted, however, a prosecutor has to be able to prove several factors that are called the “elements of the crime. First, you made a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury to someone who intended to place them in reasonable fear for their safety or their family. The definition below lists the other crime factors.
PC 601 says, “Any person is guilty of trespass who makes a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 417.6, to another person with the intent to place that other person in reasonable fear for their safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family, as defined in subdivision (l) of Section 646.9, and who does any of the following…”
Subsection (1) says that within 30 days of the threat, they unlawfully enter the residence or real property of the person they threatened with intent to execute the threat.
Subsection (2) says that within 30 days of the threat, they unlawfully enter the workplace of the person they threatened, knowing it's their workplace, and look for them without a lawful purpose on the premises with the intent to execute the threat. Let's review this state law further below.
What is Aggravated Trespass?
In the most general sense, trespassing is the act of entering or remaining on someone else's property without permission to do so.
Aggravated trespass is the two-part act of making a "credible threat" against someone or their immediate family to inflict "serious bodily injury," and then entering their home or workplace to execute that threat.
As noted, to convict you of this crime, prosecutors must establish the following facts:
- You made a "credible threat" against someone else to cause "serious bodily injury" against them or their immediate family;
- You did so with the intent to place the other party in "reasonable fear" for their safety or that of their family; and
- Within 30 days of issuing the threat, you either entered the threatened person's residence without lawful purpose with the intent of carrying out the threat; OR you entered their workplace unlawfully, knowing it was where they worked and took steps to try and locate the person to carry out the threat.
You don't have to carry out the threat to be charged with this crime. Prosecutors must only show that you intended to carry out the threat at the time you trespassed. Other things to take into account with this law:
- Under California law, a credible threat is one you seem to have the ability to carry out that puts the victim in reasonable fear for their safety or that of their family;
- Reasonable fear is the fear the average person would reasonably experience if placed in a similar situation;
- Serious bodily injury is an injury that can cause significant impairment, such as a concussion, loss of consciousness, broken bones, disfigurement, a serious wound, etc.;
- An immediate family member means a spouse, child, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, grandchild, and anyone who regularly lives in the home.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: In a fight with his ex-girlfriend, Joe tells her he will "blow her head off." Two weeks later, he enters her apartment with a loaded gun, looking for her. As a result, Joe can be charged with aggravated trespass under PC 601.
EXAMPLE 2: After being fired from his job, Bill sends a threatening email to his former boss that he is going to "pay him back with interest" the next time they see each other. A few days later, he shows up at his old workplace and looks around for the boss. He can be charged with aggravated trespass under PC 601.
EXAMPLE 3: Tom and Jill work at the same office. When Jill breaks up with Tom, he gets mad and threatens to "cut her." The next day, he arrives at the office and goes to his desk without speaking to Jill.
While Tom might be charged with making criminal threats, if Jill has reason to believe he'd carry out the threat, he won't be charged with aggravated trespass because he had a lawful basis to be at his workplace, AND he showed no intention of looking for Jill to carry out his threat.
What are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 601 aggravated trespassing, including the following:
- Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing;
- Penal Code 422 PC – criminal threats;
- Penal Code 646.9 PC – stalking;
- Penal Code 459 PC – burglary.
What Are the Penalties for PC 601?
- For misdemeanor aggravated trespass: you could receive up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000;
- For felony aggravated trespass: you could receive up to three years in county jail (not state prison) and a fine of up to $10,000;
- In either case: the judge has the latitude to impose summary probation for misdemeanors or formal probation for felonies instead of jail time.
What Are the Defenses for PC 601?
A skilled California criminal defense attorney may be able to present one or more of the defenses on your behalf, depending on the facts of your case, which are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you made no credible threat. For example, maybe you threatened something you didn't have the physical strength to do or made the threat in jest.
Perhaps we can argue that you had no intent to cause reasonable fear. If the alleged victim had a reasonable fear that you would carry out the threat, you didn't mean to convey that fear.
Perhaps we can argue that you had no intent to carry out the threat. In other words, you trespassed at the person's home or workplace, but it wasn't to injure them.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or persuade them not to file formal criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.”
If you have been charged with PC 601 aggravated trespassing, contact our law firm to review the case details and legal options. Please feel free to contact us by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.