Trespass is often handled through a civil lawsuit. But it can be a crime. If you hike or hunt, stay within the boundaries of the law. Wandering onto someone else's property can subject you to a misdemeanor charge, and if you are carrying a gun it could result in a felony charge.
Property Owner's Consent
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Unawareness that you are trespassing is not a defense to the charge, but consent by the property owner is a complete defense. That can take the form of an express written or oral consent, or it can be implied by the property owner's behavior.
Public Employee Exceptions
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Criminal trespassing statutes have public employee exceptions. They vary by state, but the intent is to allow police, fire and other public safety personnel to enter property without facing criminal charges. Louisiana law, for example, permits police, fire, medical personnel delivering services, public employees, utility employees and others to enter private property for the specific purpose of performing their legally authorized duties.
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Many states have exceptions that allow hunters to go onto private land. For example, hunters are allowed to go onto private land to retrieve hunting dogs in Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Hunters can enter private land to bring back wounded game in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Trespass with a Firearm
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When you are hunting, be careful not to trespass, because trespassing while carrying a firearm is a serious criminal offense. In Florida, for example, it is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Moreover, if you shoot a bullet, shot, arrow or bolt onto someone's land, you have committed trespass in Florida.
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Many states require the property owner to post a notice to stay off the property. Posted notices must be in purple paint in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Kansas. Posted notices in other specific colors are required in Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
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Burglary is a felony form of trespass in which the actor has intent to commit a felony when he enters a place of business, dwelling or vehicle. While most cases of trespass are misdemeanors, burglary can carry a long prison sentence.
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A trespasser who stays on someone else's property long enough is engaging in adverse possession and may have the right to keep the property if the owner does not use it in any way over a specific period of time by state law.
This legal doctrine is designed to promote positive use of land. To claim title to land in this way, the non-owner must stake an exclusive claim to the property and must declare to the public an interest in the property.