It's difficult to enumerate all the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. One of these ways, however, is that – while visiting and camping in Texas parks were shut down altogether in the state's initial response to the pandemic – you now need to make an online reservation to enjoy these activities. If you want to spend an afternoon in the great outdoors, you need a day pass, and before you can pitch your tent, you will need to prebook. The motivation behind this change is to help people enjoy the parks safely – with plenty of room for social distancing – and anyone who attempts to eschew the new requirements could find themselves looking at criminal trespass charges.
Texas Law and Criminal Trespass
Criminal trespass in the State of Texas refers to when a person enters a property owned by someone else or when a person remains on a property owned by someone else (including parks). What makes the act criminal trespassing is that the accused does not have the property owner's or managers' permission. The following can also amount to criminal trespass:
The accused failed to adhere to a notice to depart.
The accused failed to adhere to a notice that forbade entry.
Notice in this context refers to any of the following:
Any written or oral communication made by the property owner or manager (or by anyone acting under such authority)
Any posted sign
Any identifying purple-paint marks on trees or posts that are easily visible to those approaching
Any fencing or other mechanism that is intended to keep people out or to keep livestock in
The presence of any crop that is obviously being harvested or otherwise actively farmed on the property
To be arrested for criminal trespass in Texas, no intention to commit any other crime (or the commission of any other crime) is required.
Criminal Trespass: The Charge and the Penalties
Typically, Texas's criminal trespass charge is a Class B misdemeanor, which comes with a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 6 months behind bars. If, however, the alleged trespass occurs in a dwelling, in a critical infrastructure facility, or at a family violence shelter, the charge can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor. Carrying a deadly weapon can similarly elevate the charge, and a Class A misdemeanor conviction can earn you up to one year in prison with fines of up to $4,000. Criminal trespass, in other words, is no walk in the park.