Trespassing in Virginia: in a Park at Night (After Dark)
If charged, read our primary Virginia Trespassing Laws page first. The Code of Virginia punishes trespassing when it occurs in a variety of contexts. One might be in trouble if they are told to leave private property, and refuse to do so (See Virginia Code § 18.2-119). What if a “No Trespassing” sign is posted but is not visible? Does such posted signage put one on notice of the land boundaries? What if someone is enticed onto the land of another, and then they are charged with a crime? These questions are not covered on this page. Please refer to our general trespassing page (first link in this paragraph).
This page covers a fairly common way our Northern Virginia criminal attorney has seen young adults and teenagers charged with a criminal Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia:
Trespassing in a park after dark
How Serious is Trespassing in Virginia?
Trespassing is a Class 1 misdemeanor; this means it is in a category of offenses for which a conviction may result in a maximum of:
- 12 months imprisonment,
- a $2,500 fine, or
The range in sentencing is meant to give the courts discretion to address vastly different factual circumstances.
Some criminal offenses in Virginia are, by their nature, stigmatized and looked down upon morally. This is not one of those offenses. But whether or not a violation of law is heavily scrutinized by prospective or current employers, Boards (for license as a doctor, lawyer, etc.), or by any person or entity conducting a criminal background check, an arrest record reflects poorly on anyone.
University Rules and Policies
If you are a college student you may be required to report a criminal charge to your respective student services or student conduct office. For example, Virginia Tech’s policy (as of October, 2014) requires students report any pending criminal arrest (note: a charge is considered an arrest). Some convictions can result in loss of financial aid (drug convictions being one example).
For more information about school requirements, contact the institution or ask your attorney to try to find out for you. A good attorney is one who is willing to go out of his way for the client.
Immigration consequences may be critical to discuss with the lawyer who handles the case. Since each case is different and every defendant has individual goals, priorities, and backgrounds, the complexities of immigration-related consequences will not be discussed in detail on this page.
Who is the typical defendant?
The reason our principal Northern Virginia Defense Attorney and local Fairfax Criminal Lawyer selected this flavor of Trespassing in Virginia to focus upon, is rooted in the “who.”
It tends to be young men and women, in their late teens or early twenties with much to lose (a permanent criminal record will make it difficult to obtain the same level of employment in many circumstances). Often upon arrest, the accused is not aware of the illegality of their presence.
Mistake of law is not a defense, but mistake of fact might be. A Virginia trespassing lawyer may or may not ask about a client’s knowledge, depending on the case.
To the upstanding citizen with a clean record, it can be a traumatic experience to incur a criminal charge. Even more disheartening to those accused of certain offenses discussed on this page, are Virginia expungement laws: once a person is charged with a crime, it is on their criminal record for life (and is considered an arrest record). This is true even if the person was released on a Summons (not transported to jail or booked). It seems unfair, and it may be, but thankfully there is a procedure to remove an arrest record from a person’s criminal record. Only some cases qualify – you can learn more about expungement of an arrest record in Virginia here.
Why is it illegal to be in a park at night?
Areas such as parks and recreation centers are important components of our society. Most people would expect for area parks and rec centers to be safe, clean, and inviting. It is hardly surprising that regulations, ordinances, and codes restrict certain behavior or actions in parks.
What is the best case scenario?
The best case scenario in such a case is to have the Commonwealth (prosecutor) agree to drop (nolle prosequi) the charge. This allows the defendant to then expunge the record (removing from public view). Without expungement, a criminal charge will remain on and adult’s record for life. The key is to preserve eligibility to expunge that record. A finding of guilt disqualifies one from the expungement process (absent an absolute pardon (rare)).
If the prosecution does not agree the charge should be dropped, then there are a number of possible outcomes.
Amended Charge (sometimes, still allows for expungement)
The Commonwealth may offer to an agreement to plead guilty to an offense other than trespassing.
What might be an acceptable plea agreement? Trespassing is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but loitering (local Fairfax County Code) is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Depending on the defendant’s goals and principles germane to the case, it may or may not be wise to accept an agreement. Defense counsel can get creative, and in some circumstances, the prosecutor will entertain numerous possible proposals
Plead Not Guilty
By going to trial, the accused may be risking a lot or a little. It comes down to the facts of the case, any circumstances surrounding the case, and the prior record of the accused. In our Northern VA Defense Attorney’s experience, most judges will not send a person to jail if he or she has no prior record, but we do not speak for any judge or tribunal. That said, in some jurisdictions this may be different. It cannot be reiterated enough: even a person with a spotless record who is confident no judge would throw the book at them in court should still have an attorney to protect their long-term criminal record.
If the facts surrounding the case are more serious than a typical case (for example, if the defendant is charged with trespassing, but could have been charged with other offenses based on his/her conduct), or, if the defendant has been convicted of previous trespassing charges, then the Commonwealth may make an offer to the accused to plead guilty to the charge and deal with a jail sentence and fine. Again, depending on the facts, that jail sentence might be suspended or require some active time to serve.
Is an Attorney Necessary for a Trespassing Charge in Virginia?
In Fairfax, you need an attorney just to have a chance to speak and negotiate with the prosecutor. In other areas, you may be able to have a discussion. Still, it is not wise in our opinion, to discuss your case with the prosecutor without an attorney present. With much on the line (the defendants’ futures, by way of their criminal record), hiring a Virginia defense attorney is money well-spent.
Why am I charged with a County Code, rather than the Code of Virginia?
Some trespassing charges in Virginia are brought under the Virginia Code, while others are alleged violations of county ordinances. Counties such as Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington, and others have authority (in a limited sense) to enact or create laws. The officer may have written up the violation as simply, Trespassing, or perhaps, Trespassing in a Park at Night. There are subtle issues that may arise, if a specific county or city code does not comport with law with more authority.
Schedule a consultation or call our Virginia trespassing attorney today:
A quick phone call is all it takes to find out what our professional criminal lawyer in Fairfax, VA, thinks about a particular set of facts.
Call us at 703.665.3719, or leave us a message online.
Trespassing may or may not be a challenging type of case to defend — but regardless of the stellar record of the accused — it needs to be addressed in such a way so as to preserve the ability to expunge. For those with lengthy records, your attorney may be the difference between a not guilty verdict, and jail, thousands in fines, and/or a probation violation.
More on Local Northern Virginia Parks and Park Authorities
Fairfax County Park Authority
Note: for more on Fairfax County Park Authority regulations, read the Park Authority Regulations file here, published on the Fairfax County Government Park Authority homepage. You may be surprised to find out what can lead to a criminal charge!
Park News: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/news.htm
Popular parks and recreation centers in Fairfax County include:
- Burke Lake (our Fairfax County Criminal Attorney’s favorite)
- Lake Accotink
- Lake Fairfax
- Audrey Moore Rec Center and Skate Park
Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation
Access the Prince William County (PWC) park and recreation centers homepage for information, news, and updates regarding the 4,000+ acres of land devoted to outdoor recreation.
Popular parks and recreation centers in Prince William include:
Remember: Have Fun, Stay Safe, and Be Smart
Trespassing is only one of many criminal charges people pick up in parks around the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are numerous regulations set forth by the authorities in each locality, in addition to the Code of Virginia applicable on and off park land.
Coming Soon: Trespassing on school property
Trespassing on school property sounds like it is very serious…after all, a school is a place where students ought to feel safe. What if the alleged trespasser is a former student? What if they decide to stop in and say hello to a former teacher? A criminal charge may be more serious than it sounds…or, as we shall see in a future Virginia trespassing article, far less.
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