When an individual is guilty of trespassing, he or she was present on land in which no permission for their presence was given by the owner. If you go onto someone's property without their permission, in other words, you are trespassing. When someone ends up on another's property without permission by accident, this is not considered actual trespassing because there is no intention to go against the property owner's permission. If an individual is discovered on the land, told to leave and refuses, then the individual is trespassing, even if he or she ended up there accidentally.

Civil and Criminal Trespass Laws

A case of criminal trespass, when a person intentionally steps foot onto another's land without permission, can be tried in the court system and enforced by law enforcement, including park rangers. In addition, a property owner can file suit in court against the trespasser for damages, under civil trespass laws, even in the absence of a crime. A person who ended up on their property by accident, for instance, can be taken to civil court for damages, though the lack of intent to trespass would make it unlikely criminal charges would be filed.

It's unlikely a trespasser would be prosecuted if:

  • the trespasser left when asked
  • no damage was done or it can't be proven that the trespasser caused the owner any problems with using the property
  • the land was not fenced and no signs warning against trespassing were present

Landowner Consent

Consent can be written or verbal permission for an individual to be on the land. Consent can also be implied—in the case of an emergency, for instance, whether landowner consent was impossible to get.

Hunting is a special case when it comes to trespassing, and is one of the most commons ways in which trespassing takes place, either by intent or accident. Hunters are often accused of trespassing, and the laws regarding trespass in the case of hunters varies by state. About half of the states require that hunters gain permission to hunt whether the land is posted for hunting or not. Some states make it impossible for a hunter be arrested for trespassing without permission of the land owner—a law enforcement official, for instance, can't see the trespass and take action without the land owner's request. And some states allow hunters to be on any land unless they've been refused permission by the owner.


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