Federal Criminal Trespassing Laws

By Roger Thorne J.D.
Trespassing, federal property, a serious crime

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The laws of trespass have been around for about as long as the idea of private property. Along with the criminal statutes of the states in which they are located, some federal lands have their own trespassing laws. While these laws apply only to federal lands, they can be used in any state or territory where such lands are located, and generally supersede the state trespass provisions.

National Forests

The National Parks Service oversees national parks and forest lands set aside for use by the public. Though these lands are specifically operated so the public has access to them, they are not open to the public at all times. Anyone who sets foot on national forest lands when they are closed to the public can be charged with trespass. The penalties for this include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.

Military Property

Federal law also criminalizes trespassing on military or Coast Guard property. According to 18 U.S.C. 1382, anyone who trespasses on military property within the jurisdiction of the United States can be charged with criminal trespass and may face fines and incarceration for up to six months. Further, anyone who is removed from such property and ordered not to return, and who subsequently does return, can be charged with the same crime.

Indian Reservations

Anyone who knowingly enters a dwelling on Indian land without having permission or authority to do so can be charged with criminal trespass. If the offense is committed at night, the crime is a misdemeanor; otherwise the crime is considered a petty misdemeanor. Further, if a person enters Indian lands after being given notice that trespassing is prohibited by either direct communication, the presence of fencing or posted signs of notices, they commit trespass. If the person refuses an order to leave that is personally communicated, the crime is a petty offense; otherwise the crime is a violation.

About the Author

Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.

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