Trespassing has a greater impact than many people likely realize. It affects a broad swath of society, from unhoused people and minors to outdoor recreation enthusiasts and business owners. The simple act of trespassing is a misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to 90 days in prison and fines of up to $1,000 or potentially a gross misdemeanor variation with up to a year in prison and fines of up to $3,000.
What Type of Trespassing Can Result in a Gross Misdemeanor?
There are two primary scenarios in which trespassing may be charged as a gross misdemeanor:
- Trespassing on land with domestic animals for commercial production (i.e., sneaking into a livestock pen or grazing land/pastures)
- Trespassing somewhere despite there being obvious signs posted warning people not the trespass
Can you be charged with trespassing even if there aren’t signs posted that prohibit trespassing? Yes – if you’re on private property without permission – even if you were unaware that it was private property – you could still potentially be charged with trespassing. In other words, a lack of intent to trespass is not a defense against trespassing charges.
Are People Typically Charged for Accidental Trespassing?
The simple answer is likely no. In a large metro area like Minneapolis–St. Paul, the vast majority of innocent trespassing is not charged. Many instances of it simply aren’t caught or accidental trespassers are told to leave.
At the end of the day, charges choices are up to prosecutors, who tend to have much bigger things to worry about than someone who is only guilty of accidental trespassing. It may be more common in scenarios where someone is arrested for vandalism, burglary or arson, as trespassing might be an additional charge on top of the more serious property damage charge.
What Counts as Trespassing in Minnesota?
- Entering or remaining in someone else’s property or dwelling without permission
- Refusing to leave someone else’s property or dwelling after being asked to do so by the owner
- Entering agricultural land or privately owned land without permission or participating in various outdoor recreational activities without permission (hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking)
Similar but Different Criminal Offenses
Trespassing is a much more benign offense than some commonly charged alternatives. These separate charges have more to do with the acts committed within a property or the intent of the person who is trespassing. Examples include:
- Aggravated Trespass: What sets this apart from misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor trespassing is the intent of the perpetrator to cause harm or fear. This could include something like a drug dealer breaking into the home of a person who owes them money in order to threaten the debtor or a stalker entering the private office of their victim to intimidate or harass them.
- Breaking and Entering: “B and E”, as it is often called, occurs when someone forcibly enters private property. This often involves breaking a window, lock or door to make entrance into private property.
- Burglary: What separates breaking and entering from burglary is the intent to commit a crime like theft in the property.
Why Would Someone Commit a Breaking and Entering Crime Without Burglary?
While it’s true that in many cases people who break into a property do so with the intent to steal property or commit vandalism, there are some scenarios in which someone could be charged with breaking and entering and not burglary. Two common examples would be simple curiosity (i.e., “urban explorers”) or vagrants who break in for the purposes of squatting. Squatting is not technically a crime in Minnesota, but breaking and entering is.
Defenses Against Trespassing Charges
The defense strategies someone charged with trespassing may attempt to use are situational in nature, and some are more likely to be successful than others. One of the stronger defenses is consent or mistake of fact. This essentially means the person who was trespassing either had permission to enter the property or honestly believed they had permission to enter.
Although lack of intent does not preclude someone from being charged with trespassing, it is a potential defense depending on the circumstances. For example, if a hiker crossed into private land that was unfenced and there were no signs clearly stating they were entering private property, they could claim there was no reasonable way they could have known it was private.
Necessity is another potentially strong defense, such as if someone was running from a threat. An example might be someone who jumps a fence in order to escape an angry stray dog that was chasing them.
The effectiveness of these defenses may vary based on the circumstances of the situation.
Do You Require Defense Against Trespassing or Other Criminal Charges in the Twin Cities?
The Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service helps people in Minneapolis–St. Paul find experienced and reputable attorneys to meet their legal needs. Our referral counselors have access to a broad network of legal professionals in all practice areas and can help you find an attorney with experience and knowledge relevant to your situation. Call us at (612) 752-6699 to speak with a referral counselor today.