Trespassing: A complicated crime

Jenna Peterson
Redwood Falls Gazette

When is trespassing a crime in Minnesota?

In true lawyer fashion – the answer is, “it’s complicated.”

All too often the ordinary definitions we have for common words do not align with the legal, statutory definition applied in the courtroom.

One of the most common examples of such is the crime of trespassing.

In everyday life we think of trespassing in a very simple vein: entering onto land that you do not own without permission from the landowner.

While that is the official dictionary definition, trespassing under the law requires much more of an in-depth analysis and involves more than an individual merely entering upon property they do not own.

The legal elements of trespassing are: first, an individual intentionally trespassed upon the premises of another; second, the individual refused to depart from the premises upon the demand of the lawful possessor and third, the individual acted without claim of right.

In order to have a criminal conviction for trespass, all of those elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The first element is straightforward and almost verbatim to our everyday definition. An individual entered onto land they do not own, without the owner’s permission. Element number two is where it becomes a bit more complicated.

The individual needs to refuse to leave the land after demand from someone who has a legal right to make such a request, typically this is the owner of the property.

Once we have that, we are still only two thirds of the way to a criminal charge.

You still need to satisfy the third element, which is the individual on the property, being asked to leave by someone with a legal right to make such request, has no legal right of their own to be present on the property at that time.

There are many ways a person can have a “claim of right.” They could have some part ownership of the piece of land, or they could have been given permission to enter the land for a single or limited purpose by someone with a legal right to give such permission.

For example, they could be installing a new roof pursuant to an agreement, or there could be another statute, rule or regulation that allows for entrance onto the premises.

The most common example we see in our office is an individual entering onto private property without permission and then subsequently leaving on their own without any contact with a person with legal right to demand they leave.

That alone does not warrant a criminal charge of trespass under the law.

In that example we are missing the second element – refusal to leave upon demand.

Another common situation we encounter is an individual who enters onto property they have no legal right to be on, and the owner discovers the individual.

The owner asks the individual to leave and the individual complies. That also does not rise to the level of criminal trespass under Minnesota law.

We are again missing element two of the three necessary for a person to be charged with trespass under Minnesota law.

– Jenna Peterson serves as the Redwood County attorney