There is often a bit of confusion regarding trespassing and burglary statutes in Missouri, so if you’re charged with either of these crimes, you’ll need advice and representation from a Jefferson County trespassing attorney, and you will need to contact that attorney at once.
What constitutes trespassing in the State of Missouri? How is it distinct from burglary? What penalties may be imposed on someone who is convicted of a trespassing crime in this state? What is Missouri’s “purple paint law,” and what does it have to do with trespassing?
If you’ll keep reading this brief discussion of the trespassing laws in Missouri, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn how a Missouri criminal defense lawyer will help you fight a trespassing or burglary charge if you have been accused of either crime.
How Is Trespassing Defined? What Is the “Purple Paint” Law?
Missouri property owners must inform others when others cannot come onto a property. Owners meet the notice requirement by posting a “No Trespassing” sign, installing a fence, telling others verbally that they cannot enter, or by marking a property with purple paint as described below.
Entering someone’s property without consent and/or remaining there is considered trespassing. A trespassing charge differs from a burglary charge, which requires an illegal entry onto someone’s private property to include the use of force (even if that force is merely pushing a door open).
The state’s purple paint law lets property owners mark posts or trees with purple paint as a warning to trespassers. The paint is the equivalent of a fence or a “no trespassing” sign telling others not to enter a property. Property marked with purple paint doesn’t have to be fenced.
The purple paint must be placed on posts or trees, and the vertical paint lines must be at least 8 inches long. The bottom edge of a mark must be from 3 to 5 feet off the ground, and marks must be easily seen by anyone approaching the property. Marks may not be more than 100 feet apart.
What Penalties May Be Imposed for Trespassing Convictions?
Entering the property of another person without consent, whether or not the property is painted or fenced, is second-degree trespassing. Second-degree trespassing is considered an infraction rather than a misdemeanor or felony. It is punishable upon conviction with a fine of up to $200.
The following acts constitute trespassing in the first degree:
- knowingly entering a property illegally or knowingly refusing to leave after being told to
- entering a property that is marked with purple paint as described by law
- entering a property where a “No Trespassing” sign has been posted
- entering a property that has been fenced against intruders
Trespassing in the first degree is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction with up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
How Can You Avoid a Trespassing Conviction?
If you have been charged with trespassing in Missouri, you should be represented by a Jefferson County trespassing lawyer. One defense against a trespassing charge is the defense of necessity or justification.
This defense can be offered after someone, through no fault of his or her own, trespasses in order to avoid a greater harm. For instance, if you were chased by an aggressive dog and you ran into someone’s house, you can offer necessity as a plausible defense against the trespassing charge.
Another defense against a trespassing charge is a “claim of right.” Using this defense, the defendant claims that he or she has the legal right to enter the property in question. Other defenses that can be offered against a trespassing charge include:
- Misidentification: You may claim that someone else committed the crime.
- Fabrication: You may claim no trespassing occurred and the charge against you is false.
When Does Trespassing Become Burglary?
Missouri’s trespassing laws are written in a way that makes them difficult to understand fully. If you are a property owner with questions about your rights, or if you have been charged with trespassing in Missouri, you’ll need to speak with a Jefferson County trespassing attorney.
When someone uses force to enter a property, and when that person knowingly remains illegally inside a building or any inhabitable structure for the purpose of committing a crime, that person may be charged with second-degree burglary.
More than 29,000 burglary arrests were made by Missouri law enforcement officers in 2020. Burglary in the second degree is a Class D felony in Missouri that may be penalized upon conviction with up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
What Is First-Degree Burglary?
A person commits first-degree burglary in Missouri when that person knowingly and illegally stays in a structure for the purpose of committing a crime inside the structure, and any of these conditions exist:
- The person is carrying explosives or a deadly weapon.
- The person threatens or injures someone who isn’t his or her criminal accomplice.
- Anyone who was not taking part in the crime is present inside the structure.
First-degree burglary is a Class B felony punishable upon conviction with up to fifteen years in prison. An offender convicted of burglary will receive a sentence for the next-higher felony class if he or she has two or more previous felony convictions or is considered a “dangerous offender.”
Charged With Trespassing or Burglary? What Should You Do?
If you are taken into police custody and charged with trespassing or burglary in this state:
- Cooperate with the police, but firmly insist on your rights.
- Politely refuse to answer questions until your attorney can be present.
- Don’t sign anything, and do not try to negotiate with the police or the prosecutors.
- Contact a Jefferson County trespassing or burglary lawyer as quickly as possible.
Your defense attorney will examine any physical evidence from the purported crime scene, question any witnesses, determine exactly what happened, and will then work aggressively and effectively to bring your trespassing or burglary case to its best possible conclusion.
Every criminal defendant in Missouri has the right to an attorney’s help. If you’re charged with trespassing, don’t let a conviction disrupt your family or your career. Even for a misdemeanor charge, your future could depend on having a good defense lawyer working on your behalf.