By Cameron Rasmusson
It’s time to take extra care in making sure outdoor expeditions remain on public land.
Passed in March, the new trespass laws bolster private property rights and increase penalties for violators. Critics of the new law, however, point to vague language and other muddled elements that may make the law difficult to enforce. With that in mind, here are four things to know about the new trespassing law.
It increases penalties for trespassers
Under the new law, a first offense is punishable by $500 to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail. That increases to a $1,500 to $3,000 fine on a second offense and a $5,000 to $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail for a third offense. Trespassing that results in property damaging brings more severe punishments, with a third violation being a felony offense carrying $15,000 to $50,000 in fines and one to five years in jail. Finally, criminal trespassing connecting to hunting, fishing or trapping brings a one-year suspension of Idaho Fish and Game licenses.
It broadens landowner rights and limits obligations
The law also removes a requirement that landowners place “no trespassing” signs or orange paint every 660 feet. Instead, according to the Idaho Statesman, the land must be marked at the corners of fencelines and “ at boundaries that intersect navigable streams, roads, gates and rights of way.”
Finally, the law allows landowners to bring civil suits against individuals who they believe have trespassed on their property, recovering a minimum of $500 in damages plus legal expenses if they prevail. On the other hand, the defendant can recover court fees and attorney costs if the court determines the lawsuit is frivolous.
Its intersection with “stand your ground” laws could spell trouble
While the law grants exceptions for people like missionaries, door-to-door salespeople, Girl Scouts, utility workers, and customers entering stores, that hasn’t allayed fears about its overlap with Idaho’s “stand your ground” laws. Also passed this year by the Idaho Legislature, the law permits individuals to use deadly force while defending their property or place of work.
Concern that the combination of bolstered trespassing laws and stand your ground laws could lead to violent confrontations was great enough that the Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued a cautionary statement: “The overlap between the proposed (bills) would likely increase the risk of serious injury or death to otherwise innocent trespassers.”
It’s creating headaches for local law enforcement
The trespassing bill was intended to clarify Idaho’s existing laws, but so far, it’s done the opposite. Law enforcement officials worry that the law could end up creating trouble for people who didn’t intend to trespass in the first place. On top of that, some of the language — like the definition of trespassing as entering or remaining on private property — creates more confusion.
“Well which is it? Is it the mere act of entering a violation or is remaining a violation. It seems like it’s both,” Vaughn Kileen, executive director of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, told the Idaho Statesman.
According to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, it’s up to local law enforcement agencies to determine how to enforce the new law. But that’s easier said than done. According to the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, it is awaiting direction from the Bonner County Prosecutor’s Office about how precisely to proceed with enforcement, and some of those issues may need to be hashed out in court.