Trespassing Laws, Charges and Statute of Limitations

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Trespassing, and particularly criminal trespassing, means the accused have entered a property or remained there, without being privileged, licensed, or otherwise authorized to be there. Generally speaking, the offender must have somehow been notified of this, either verbally or through written notice, by someone with property authorization. The laws surrounding criminal trespassing vary tremendously from one state to the next.

Trespassing Laws

When people are caught trespassing, they can face both criminal and civil charges. Trespassing is always a criminal offense, however. While the exact laws vary from one state to another, most require the prosecution to prove that people entered or remained intentionally on the property of someone else without being authorized to do so. Interestingly, how they receive this authorization varies, and sometimes it is a case of simply knowing the rules. For instance, in Washington, those under 16 without a parent or guardian would trespass at outdoor music festivals. In South Dakota, people who are peeking in the window of a house are considered as trespassers.

Trespassing Crimes & Charges

Generally speaking, trespassing is classed as a misdemeanor crime. There are cases in which it is a felony, however. The distinction is usually down to intent and the exact situation. Usually, those convicted of trespassing will face some sort of imprisonment as well as a fine. Additionally, civil charges can usually be brought by the property owner.

Trespassing Punishment

Criminal trespassing usually goes hand in hand with burglary, but is less serious. How serious – ranging from infraction to felony – depends on the circumstances of the case. The penalties can be severe, although they do depend on the state. In Kentucky, trespassers could be sent to prison for a year and pay a $500 fine for entering someone else’s home. If they enter enclosed land, they can face 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Most of the time, however, the harshest penalties come not from the criminal charge, but rather from the civil liability. The property owner can sue for damages, even if no harm was caused to either people or property. As such, people can face quite hefty financial judgments, while also often being stopped from continuing to trespass, for instance, through restraining orders.

Trespassing Sentencing Guidelines

The sentencing guidelines, as stated, vary from one state to the next. As a rule of thumb, however, it depends on the severity, or degree, of the crime. As such:

  • 1st degree trespassing, which happens when people gain entry to a property intending to commit other crimes, is a felony crime. Typically, punishments range from one to three years incarceration and a fine.
  • 2nd degree trespassing, which happens when people illegally enter or remain on a property, is a Class A misdemeanor. It can lead to up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, or three months’ probation. The latter is most common in first time offenders.
  • 3rd degree trespassing, which happens when people enter marked private or fenced off property. This is a Class B misdemeanor and can lead to three months in jail and/or a fine.

Trespassing Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for trespassing varies from one state to the other but is usually two years.

Trespassing Elements

There are a number of key elements to trespassing. These are:

  • Intent – without the intent to illegally enter or remain in a property, trespassing cannot be demonstrated.
  • Notice or warning – many states legally require property owners to inform others that they are not allowed to be on the property. This could be a “no trespassing” sign, a fence, or a locked door, for instance, as well as a verbal request.
  • Specific acts – in certain states, people have to have completed specific acts if they are to be accused of trespassing. These include things such as cutting down trees or hunting on someone else’s land, tampering with vending machines, or illegally entering a vehicle.

Certain spaces are open to the public, such as parks or stores, but people can still be convicted of criminal trespass. For this to happen, they must have been asked to leave, or the public space must have closed. Those who lock themselves in a mall, for instance, are trespassing.

Trespassing Techniques

There are different techniques to purposefully trespass. One to be the most wary of is when people intentionally trespass with the intent to later sue the property owner. If people trespass on someone else’s property and they become injured as a result, they may hold the property owner liable. For instance, if homeowners set up booby traps in a Home Alone-style way, they could face some very serious consequences. This is why property owners should focus instead on having clear signage and installing security cameras, rather than setting up traps.

Trespassing Defenses

There are numerous defenses against trespassing, including:

  • Consent. The defense could demonstrate that the alleged offender had the necessary consent to enter the property. Inaction or silence on the part of the property owner can be classed as consent. However, this consent may not be fraudulently obtained, for instance, by tricking a property owner, by obtaining consent from a minor, or by obtaining it from an intoxicated individual.
  • Reclaiming property. Sometimes, trespassing is allowed if it is because property that someone owns must be reclaimed. However, this property must have been taken in an illegal manner, or through an “act of God”, such as wind or a storm.
  • Public necessity. This means that the trespassing occurred in order to protect the public from danger or an emergency. The necessity must have been immediate and it must have been in good faith. This is classed as a complete defense, meaning a defendant essentially admits to trespassing.
  • Private necessity. This is not a complete defense, but one in which defendants demonstrate that they had to trespass to protect themselves or others from serious bodily injury or death, for instance, due to an animal attack or being chased by an assailant. While private necessity may see charges of criminal trespassing dropped, a civil suit can often still be brought for any damages caused.

Trespassing Cases


  • Criminal Trespassing Law. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • What is trespassing? (2007, September 7). Retrieved from
  • Limitation of Actions. (n.d.). Retrieved from