Legal Representation for Criminal Trespass Crimes in Maine
Serving Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Biddeford and Saco
Hunting, snowmobiling, hiking, or just enjoying the great outdoors would be so much easier if you didn't have to worry about trespassing on someone else's property. And while the state of Maine loves its outdoors, and wants to let people enjoy them as much as possible, it also realizes that some people need their privacy. Maine's criminal trespass law, found at 17-A §402, tries to find the middle ground between these two interests.
What Is Trespassing?
Trespassing is the act of going onto someone else's property, despite knowing that you're not allowed to do so. When it's not a heightened charge of aggravated trespass, criminal trespass is a relatively minor offense, but is still surprisingly complex.
What Are the Penalties for Trespassing?
The penalties for trespassing depend on where you were charged to have trespassed.
The most serious form of criminal trespassing, not including aggravated trespassing, is if you were charged with entering someone else's house, or dwelling. If this is the case, the charge is for a Class D misdemeanor. The maximum fine that you could face would be $2,000, and the maximum jail time would be 364 days.
All other types of trespassing are Class E misdemeanors, which come with a maximum fine of $1,000, and a maximum prison sentence of 180 days. These types of criminal trespass include:
- Entering any structure that is locked or barred,
- Entering any place that is properly marked, or fenced, to keep trespassers out,
- Entering any place, or remaining there, despite a properly given warning to stay out or leave,
- Entering a cemetery at night, between half-an-hour after sunset and half-an-hour before sunrise, unless expressly allowed by law or posting.
Some of these ways of trespassing are fairly simple. Entering a house, or a locked or barred structure, is fairly straight forward, as is visiting a cemetery after hours. However, two of these ways of trespassing, #2 and #3, raise complicated legal issues.
How Can Property Be Properly Marked to Keep Trespassers Out?
One way that trespassing can get tough to understand is when it has to do with property that has “No Trespassing” postings around it. Here's the law, regarding how it works:
“A person is guilty of criminal trespass if, knowing that that person is not licensed or privileged to do so, that person… Enters any place from which that person may lawfully be excluded and that is posted in accordance [this law] or in a manner reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders or that is fenced or otherwise enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders.”
There are several important elements, here.
The first element is the requirement that you can “lawfully be excluded” from venturing onto the property. You can't get charged if you're in a public park, and walk past “No Trespassing” signs, put there by people who want to have a private picnic – they can't lawfully exclude you from walking there.
However, if you can lawfully be excluded from the property, then the landowner has to post his or her intention to keep trespassers out, so people know that they can't go on the property. There are lots of ways that the landowner can do this. You've probably seen examples of one of the most popular ways: Putting up “No Trespassing” signs. These have to be placed no less than 100 feet apart. A less popular way is to use purple paint lines. These have to be conspicuously placed, and also within 100 feet of each other to be effective.
Before you get out a yardstick to measure the distance between signs, though, know that property is successfully posted if it can be determined that the landowner's intention to keep people off their land was “reasonably likely” to come to a visitor's attention. If two purple paint stripes are 101 feet apart, but you saw one of them and you got charged for criminal trespass, and if it later comes out that you saw the sign, then it probably won't matter that the stripes are too far apart.
Whether these postings for “No Trespassing” are “reasonably likely to come to your attention,” though, is a factually difficult thing to determine. Criminal defense attorneys like William T. Bly love it when these kinds of issues crop up. It gives them an opportunity to sow reasonable doubts into a jury's mind about whether you knew that you were trespassing.
What Is a Properly Given Warning to Leave?
Landowners can also make it illegal to visit or stay on their property by personally letting you know. This can be in writing, or verbally, and can be done by either the landowner, or by someone with the landowner's agreement.
How Can a Defense Attorney Help If I'm Charged With Trespassing?
One way that criminal defense attorneys defend against trespassing charges is to argue that you didn't actually know you weren't allowed to be on someone else's property. “Knowing” something is a tricky thing for the prosecution team to prove, and they have to do it beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a criminal conviction for criminal trespass. A good criminal defense attorney is aware of this difficulty, and will use it to great effect in defending someone charged with criminal trespass. If it can be shown that you were unaware of where you were, or made a mistake and ended up in someone's property, or that postings or a warning to leave were not given, then your criminal charges for trespassing should not turn into a criminal conviction. And all that it takes to make this happen is to put a lingering doubt in the jury's mind.
Attorney William T. Bly has experience defending criminal defendants against all sorts of charges in Maine, including those for criminal trespass. His years in the field have given him insight in exactly how prosecution teams work, and the best ways to argue against their cases. Call his law office at (207) 571-8146.