What counts as trespassing in Michigan?
How do you know when being on someone else’s land is illegal and will get you into trouble and when it’s okay?
How can you safely engage in acts of protest without the fear of being arrested?
These questions are no doubt what ten protestors from Ann Arbor’s March “Climate Strike” demonstration are asking after being formally charged with trespassing in May 2019.
According to the attorney representing the accused, everyone at the rally, which was held at a University of Michigan administration building,” was acting in a civil, non-violent way.”
The climate strike was part of a global movement which included school walkouts and rallies.
This particular demonstration involved college, high school, and middle school students who were peacefully protesting in an effort to urge U of M to address climate change.
Trespassing charges are a tool often used by entities such as U of M to fend off unwanted demonstrations. It remains to be seen how these ten protestors will fare in court.
Penalties for Trespassing in Michigan
However, can you get in trouble for being on private property accidentally?
In Michigan, the answer is no. On private property, if the owner has told you to leave or if you are expressly forbidden to be on the property, it is a misdemeanor.
However, if you are there without realizing it – let’s say you stray onto someone’s land from the woods in a state park – you aren’t breaking the law.
If you ignore posted “no trespassing” or “private property” signs, then you are breaking the law. It doesn’t matter what the signs say.
However, owners are responsible for posting some type of conspicuous warning on private property.
If you do trespass illegally, it is punishable by up to 30 days in county jail or a $250 fine, or both.
Felony Trespassing in Michigan
Is trespassing ever considered more serious in Michigan?
There is also such a thing as felony trespassing. Under Michigan law, there are things called key facilities. In addition, you can get in more trouble for entering one of these:
- Chemical manufacturing plant
- Power plant
- Water treatment facility
- Railroad switching yard
- Trucking terminal
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing facility
- Hazardous waste facility
- Cell phone tower
- State correctional facility
- State correctional facilities aren’t considered key facilities. However, the penalty for entering one without permission is the same as entering a key facility. You may face up to four years in federal prison, a $2,500 fine, or both.
Trespassing While Hunting in Michigan
If the purpose of your trespassing is for recreational sports like hunting, fishing, shooting or anything else, you must assume you may not enter if there are a fence and a sign warning people to stay out.
For owners of property near legal hunting grounds, a minimum 50 square inch sign must be posted at the property line to give people a warning.
If you do cross that boundary in pursuit of recreational sport, you could face a $500 fine and 90 days of jail time.
If you kill a protected animal or fish, the fine rises to $750, continue to get higher for subsequent violations.
In addition, landowners have the right to sue criminal trespassers in court for a court order against trespassing again and for damages for any harm to the land.
Defense for Trespassing Charges
In all cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knew or should have known the property was private. Lack of intent to trespass is a possible defense for this crime.
Trespassing Defense Attorney, David J. Kramer
Having a criminal trespassing conviction on your record can negatively affect other aspects of your life and your future. This is especially true if you incurred the charges from a conscientious activity like a peaceful protest.
If you are being investigated, you need an experienced criminal attorney. Call Michigan criminal attorney, David J. Kramer, today to fight for your rights.