In South Carolina, the definition of trespassing is "the unauthorized entry onto the land or building of another". The statute renders it unlawful to enter private property without the explicit consent of the property owner or person in possession of the property after being warned not to enter, or being asked to vacate the premises.
Unlawful trespassing becomes a criminal act when visible signs state "no trespassing", and the owner has asked you to leave or has previously asked you not to come onto the property. This is applicable to private residences, commercial buildings, and land. Trespass charges can be issued on the basis of fence climbing, and there is no need for a criminal objective in order to be convicted.
Trespassing Crimes and Penalties
There is no crime of trespass, but in South Carolina, the crime is considered "after notice". Before being arrested, you must receive notice that you are actively trespassing. There are some instances where someone can have you served with a trespass notice, which then serves as evidence that you have been advised to stay off of the property. Frequently, these criminal trespassing charges are the result of disagreements between individuals. One will call law enforcement and press charges against the other for unlawful trespassing, even if there is no notice issued.
Criminal trespass laws require criminal intent, such as learning that entry is prohibited but entering anyway, or entering and refusing to leave. A great example is a guest in a home who refuses to leave after being asked. Trespassing can take place on both private and public property, and the status of being public does not give people the right to access the area to use however they deem appropriate.
Penalties for trespassing vary. These penalties differentiate between severities, starting with misdemeanors that can then climb to felony penalties. These penalties are often based on the type of property that is involved. Unauthorized entry on land usually carries less severe punishments than being in someone's home without their expressed permission. Harsher consequences are dealt with when entering vulnerable areas, such as crime scenes, trespassing on school lands, places with critical infrastructure needs, shelters, and abortion clinics.
Judges often issue jail time of 30 days in jail, up to a year-long jail sentence. Someone who has been convicted typically faces fines as a penalty. These can be imposed separately or in addition to other sentences. These fines vary widely from as little as $25 to several thousand dollars. A period of probation may need to be served, and will typically last for a year. Any of these violated conditions may result in additional penalties, including longer probation time, or an order to serve jail time.
Felony penalties are uncommon, and are only issued in severe cases and if there is a risk of harm to others. These cases typically carry a maximum of a few years in prison. However, you would most likely see probation or jail time.
Related Content: When can a cop search your car in South Carolina?
Defending a Trespassing Charge
There are a few situations in which charges against you may be dropped. If you obtained consent, then your presence on the property was legal. This consent may be given through a verbal agreement, written agreement, or actions. Coercion does not count as consent. A complete defense is available if you need to trespass in order to protect the public in the event of an emergency, but this is an immediate need for necessity.
This must be done in good faith to protect others. Private necessity lets you trespass to protect someone, including yourself, from death or severe injury. This includes protecting animals and chattel from injury or serious destruction. However, it is important to keep in mind that you may be held civilly liable for damages that are caused during this event.
If you have been charged, you will want to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. TF Law will work directly with you in order to get the best outcome for your case. If you are in the Columbia Metro area, call 803 879 4499, and upstate Greenville can call 864-618-2323. An experienced trespassing defense attorney with TF Law will work with you for the best outcome.