In the state of Mississippi, trespassing is a misdemeanor. Basic information regarding penalties for a trespasser can be found in Section 97-17-93 of the Mississippi Code. Mississippi defines trespassing as going into or upon, or remaining in or upon, buildings, premises or lands of another after being forbidden to do so. The punishment for a first offense for conviction of trespassing is a fine up to $250.
Penalties for Additional Offenses
A person convicted of a second or subsequent offense for trespassing within five years of the first offense can suffer incarceration for between 10 and 30 days and a fine up to $500. The law does not apply to a landowner or lessee’s family, guests or agents, or to a surveyor or a person entering the land for lawful business purposes.
One of the primary reasons a trespasser comes onto rural private property is to engage in hunting and fishing without the permission of the property owners. A landowner can warn potential trespassers away from their property with clearly posted notices that fish and game are owned by the landowner and trespassing is not allowed on the premises.
Who Enforces Trespass Laws?
Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, constables and conservation officers enforce trespassing statutes. The officers enforce the statutes by issuing a citation to individuals charged with trespassing. If a landowner, lessee of the land or an agent of a landowner or lessee wants to dismiss a prosecution, the state shall do so.
Trespassing Upon Enclosed Land
Mississippi has a separate statute, Section 97-17-85, regarding trespass upon enclosed land of another. Enclosed land (also spelled inclosed) is land where livestock are contained within certain areas by fencing. If a person goes onto enclosed land without the landowner’s consent, they can be fined not more than $50.
Trespass Involving Carrying Away Vegetation
Trespass that involves carrying away vegetation, as covered in Mississippi Code Section 97-17-89, carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $500, or both. This type of trespass requires that a person willfully and wantonly gather and unlawfully sever, destroy, carry away or injure any trees, shrubs, flowers, moss, grain, turf, grass, hay, fruits, nuts or vegetables thereon, where the action does not amount to larceny. The verdict of guilty of this type of action may be rendered under an indictment for larceny when the evidence does not warrant a verdict of guilty of larceny but warrants a conviction under this type of trespass.
Inciting Others to Trespass
The offense of inciting others to trespass, covered in Mississippi Code Section 97-17-99, involves inciting, soliciting, urging, encouraging, exhorting, instigating, or procuring a person to go into or upon a building, premises or land of another. The penalty for this offense is up to six months in jail and a fine up to $500, or both. When a person incites another to trespass, both can be convicted of a crime. The person who actually sets foot on the property of another can be convicted of trespass under Section 97-17-93; the person who hired them can be convicted under Section 97-17-99.
No Recovery for Injuries Under Mississippi Law
According to Mississippi Code Section 97-17-103, a perpetrator assumes the risk of loss, injury or death resulting from, or arising out of, a course of criminal trespass. The crime victim, meaning the property owner, is immune from, and not liable for, civil damages as a result of acts or omissions on their land. A certified copy of a guilty plea, a court judgment or guilt, a court record of conviction or an adjudication as a delinquent child is conclusive proof of the perpetrator’s assumption of the risk.
Preventing a Trespass
A property owner can take a number of actions to prevent trespassers from entering their property. They make sure that fences and gates are in good repair. They can post "no trespassing" signs or clearly written notices that going past a certain point will be considered trespassing. A landowner can protect buildings and personal property such as equipment with locks and guard dogs.
Complete and Sign Trespass Affidavit
A private property owner can also guard against trespassers by completing and signing a trespass affidavit or sworn authorization regarding trespass. A trespass affidavit allows law enforcement officers to enter private property to look for trespassers. A property owner who has already completed and signed a trespass affidavit may not need to sign a criminal complaint when the trespasser is arrested. A trespass affidavit is typically valid for one year and may be renewed.
When Encountering Trespassers
A trespasser, particularly one who is hunting, may be armed with a gun and ready to act in self-defense. A landowner should avoid shooting at a trespasser. Instead, a landowner who is having trouble with a trespasser should photograph the trespasser’s vehicle and license plate and forward this information to law enforcement.
The landowner should call the sheriff’s department or a conservation officer with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, reachable at 800-BE SMART, noting that the person is a trespasser. A landowner who learns a trespasser’s name and contact information should give the trespasser written notice that they are to stay off the property. The letter should state the landowner will pursue an enforcement action and legal fine for trespassing if they return.
Trespassers Within City Limits
Mississippi cities such as Jackson and Ocean Springs have city-specific prohibitions against trespassing. Their ordinances may require additional actions by a landowner to prevent trespass. The ordinances may also prevent additional types of trespass not explicitly covered by state laws.
For example, the Jackson ordinance requires a landowner to prominently place a posted notice on a building or real property to prevent trespassing. The notice must be easily seen from a distance of 50 feet from the building or real property. It must inform the public that unauthorized persons are prohibited from entering the property.
Ocean Springs’ ordinance addresses trespass in parking areas. A person who parks or stands in a private parking lot or parking area of another without the consent of an owner or tenant is guilty of a misdemeanor. The owner, tenant or agent of the parking lot is required to have posted a sign with specific language relating to a potential trespass, containing a statement similar to:
“No person shall stand, remain or park on this parking lot or area between o’clock _.m. and o’clock_.m. Violators will be prosecuted.”
Any police officer who observes a person in a parking lot or parking area during the prohibited hours may arrest that person for violating the ordinance.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.