Trespassing

“No trespassing” signs in Georgia are meaningless.  16-7-21 O.C.G.A. is the statute that deals with criminal trespass.

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The first part of the criminal trespass law deals with intentional damage to someone else’s property with the damage being less than $500, and it also addresses the malicious inference with the possession or use of another’s property.    That part is pretty simple.

The misunderstanding of the law pertains to entry onto the property of another.

There are three instances in which entering upon the land, vehicle, aircraft, railroad car, etc, of another, is prohibited:

  • When the entry is made for an unlawful purpse
  • When having received specific and individual notice from the owner, rightful occupant, or authorized representative of same that said entry is prohibited
  • Remaining on the property of another after having been notified to depart by the owner, rightful occupant, or authorized representative of same

In other words, if they own it or rightfully occupy it, they can prohibit entry or order others to leave it.  Also, if a parent or guardian has given such notice, this can’t be undone by a minor child.

As to item number two in the above instances, signs are not specific and individualized notice.  There are a multitude of cases in which the Georgia appellate courts have held that individuals must be specifically advised of exactly which property they are prohibited from entering or remaining.  There is even a case in which a conviction was overturned because the defendant had been ordered to stay away from her ex-husband’s place of employment via a divorce decree rather than an actual owner/occupant/representative of the property.

In order to prosecute a person for criminal trespass, the state must prove that the person received a specific and individual notice to leave or not enter a specific property.  There is case law that such notice is valid for two years.

From a practical standpoint, as a peace officer, I don’t know who you have authorized to swim in your pool or fish in your pond or otherwise be on your property.   Furthermore, I can’t decide who you can let swim in your pool or fish in your pond, etc.  You are the property owner, and that is your decision.

Methods of notification may include sending someone a registered letter informing them to stay off of a specific property or serving an individual personally with written notice to stay off of a specific property.  It’s a typical (but may not be universal) practice for law enforcement to carry either a “barring notice” or “prohibited entry form” that can be filled out on scene and served to individuals, but again note, this must be at the behest of the owner/occupant/representative or the property.  A verbal notice will also work, but my advice would be to make a recording of such notice being given.