Difference between trespassing & criminal trespassing

Written by roger thorne j.d. | 13/05/2017
Difference between trespassing & criminal trespassing
Trespass is a commonly used law that applies to both civil and criminal cases. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Scott Davidson)

The law of trespass differentiates between two types: criminal and civil. Knowing the difference can be very important, as both criminal penalties as well as lawsuits can result from trespassing.

Criminal Trespass

The crime of criminal trespass involves a person knowingly entering or remaining on a property on which he knows he does not have permission to be. Criminal trespass is most often a misdemeanour, though it can be prosecuted as a felony, especially if the trespass results in damage to persons or property.

Civil Trespass

Civil trespass is a violation of a property owner's right to maintain exclusive control over his property. This is a civil law, meaning the property owner must sue the trespasser in court.

Criminal Penalties

Criminal penalties for the crime of criminal trespass can include jail time, fine or probation. Harsher penalties can apply to repeat offenders, those with criminal pasts or if the defendant is found guilty of felony trespass.

Civil Penalties

A civil lawsuit involves one party suing another. If a defendant is found guilty of civil trespass, they will be responsible for paying damages to the plaintiff property owner. They may also be enjoined from going on or near the property.


While the differentiation between civil and criminal trespass is widely recognised, different jurisdictions may call the criminal offence by a different name. Civil trespass laws also vary between jurisdictions, and codifications may refer to it under various names.

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