Trespassers will be shot – Survivors will be shot again
One phrase from the most famous prayer of all says: “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”… Some translate the word “trespasses” as sins, others as “debts”. Today, we think of trespassing in a different context, involving violations of landowner rights. But the origins of the word make it abundantly clear that it was a serious offense from the beginning. To this day, few things incite the wrath of landowners more than trespassers.
There’s the way it used to be
Trespasser will be shot – Survivors will be shot again
How it was in the not too distant past
Trespasser will be shot
The way it is now
Trespassers will be complained about to the local authorities, who will then ask the landowners if they have any proof and, if so, to fill out an affidavit under oath. If the authorities can’t talk the landowner out of making a big deal out of it, then the authorities usually contact the trespasser and tell him they’ve gotten a complaint and if it happens again, he might have to write him a ticket, or they may just go ahead and do it. The trespasser will of course say that he didn’t realize that he was trespassing, didn’t see the signs, or that somebody told him it would be OK and that he apologizes for any misunderstanding. The trespasser then tells everyone what a selfish jerk the landowner is. The trespasser hopefully finds somewhere else to trespass. (Note – there are law enforcement personnel who take trespassing very seriously but that is not the impression of most landowners).
The way it ought to be
Landowner warns a trespasser not to trespass again. When he catches him again, he reports it to the authorities and the authorities take it very seriously and hold the trespasser accountable. The landowner benefits from setting the tone that he enforces his boundaries. Others will get that message as well. The landowners that have problems are often the ones that let things slide too long, giving the impression that anyone can come onto their land without consequences. To the would-be trespasser, ask permission very nicely and promise to leave everything just as you found it or better. Permission just might be given if you show a landowner the respect he or she deserves. If not, then stay off property that does not belong to you.
Suggestions to minimize trespassing on your property
- It is not necessary to post “No Trespass” signs in order to enforce your rights, but it is highly advisable to do so, helps define your boundaries and can serve to enhance penalties.
- Trespass statues normally have increasing levels of severity in terms of fines, penalties and potential jail time for second and third offenses, and in instances where landowners can demonstrate prior warnings to a trespasser. Document your warnings in writing or by email if possible.
- There are also “civil” as opposed to “criminal” trespass laws, which can give the landowner the right to recover monetary damages for trespass. If a poacher kills one of your trophy bucks that you’ve been watching for the last five years, you may have sustained huge financial damages. People will pay large sums of money for the right to hunt and shoot a trophy buck. There are many legal theories to supports money damages for trespass. That approach is often overlooked when landowners think a ticket and misdemeanor is their only recourse.
- The advent of cellular phones and trail cams make proving trespass much easier. Take advantage of technology to get photos of license plates or actual pictures of any trespassers which will assist your law enforcement folks in making arrests. Make sure you have your local conservation officer’s number on your speed dial and get to know these guys. You need them in your corner.
Mike Massey is the managing partner in the Jackson, Mississippi law firm of Massey Higginbotham Vise & Phillips, P.A. He writes and lectures extensively on the rights of landowners and outdoor related legal issues. He may be reached via www.outdoorlawyer.com