Can you be charged with criminal trespass if you in good faith believed that you had the legal right to be on the property?

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Can you be charged with criminal trespass if you in good faith believed that you had the legal right to be on the property?

Someone let us move into a house, gave us a key and everything. Apparently she wasn’t the real landlord or didn’t properly own the property. The real owner has contacted us. Is there a way for us to avoid criminal trespassing charges since we obviously didn’t know we were living here illegally?

Asked on August 15, 2011 Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

In theory, if you had a reasonable and good faith belief thatyou were entitled to be there, you would not be criminally liable; the key issue, if the authorities become involved, will be whether you had that belief (so whether they believe you) and also how reasonable was that belief--for example, if a young single causasion woman gave you the key, but as soon as you stepped into the house, you saw pictures of a black family with middle aged parents, it might not be reasonable to conclude she was the owner. So the answer is, if you are correct and your belief was reasonable, you should not face criminal liabilty--but if contacted by the authorities, get a criminal defense attorney; whenever anyone is contacted by the authorities for potential criminal liability, they should get a defense attorney. Also note that even if you avoid criminal liability, if anything was damaged, lost, or stolen while you were in the house, you could be sued for it.


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