North Dakota is one of the only states in the country where a person is legally permitted to enter onto private property unless there is a posted sign that says “No Trespassing” or “No Hunting.” The topic is fraught with tension, as landowners wish to preserve their privacy rights, while sportsmen want to continue to be able to hunt on privately held lands.
Currently, if you are caught entering onto private land without authorization in North Dakota, you could face charges for criminal trespassing, a class B misdemeanor. Trespassing is a property crime, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,500, or both.
The relationship between North Dakota landowners and sportsmen has grown increasingly tense. The North Dakota Ag Coalition, which represents 45 statewide groups, has lobbied state legislators to protect landowners’ property rights and limit access to private land. But sportsmen’s groups want to preserve traditional hunting culture in North Dakota.
The North Dakota legislature has spent decades trying to find a compromise. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department tried to intervene by providing hunting access on private lands through the use of Private Lands Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) agreements.
In 2019, the North Dakota Senate passed legislation that called for the creation of a database that landowners can use to identify their land as open, closed, or open with permission. Under the proposed legislation, participation would be voluntary. If landowners chose not to participate, they could still post their land with traditional “No Hunting” or “No Trespassing” signs, or by fencing in their property. If landowners do not participate in the online database or post signs, their land would remain open to hunters, but not to others.
The Bill passed in the House after extensive amendments and was sent back to the Senate. Chief among the sportsmen’s group’s concerns was a lack of contact information for landowners on whose land they wish to hunt.
Even though North Dakota criminal trespass law remains in flux, you can be charged with criminal trespass if you knowingly enter onto someone else’s property without authorization. To be found guilty, the prosecution must establish that you knew you were not allowed to enter or remain on the land in question. Landowners commonly notify potential trespassers that the land is private by posting “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs, or by placing a fence around the property. Nonetheless, many landowners who post “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs still grant people permission to hunt on their land. Hunters are also permitted to enter onto posted land, without a firearm or bow, to recover game that was shot or killed on land where the hunter had a lawful right to hunt.
If you are caught trespassing on private lands without the permission of the landowner, you face punishments that include fines and possible jail time, plus suspension of your hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for a minimum of one year.
Trespassing laws continue to be a hot topic throughout North Dakota, especially as sportsmen who cannot travel to Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions come here to hunt.
The issue is further complicated by non-hunters who try to take advantage of North Dakota’s loose trespassing laws. For example, in 2016-17, people came to North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. They entered onto private land that was not posted but could not be legally removed because the property owner, who wanted their land to remain open to hunters, did not post “No Trespassing” signs.
North Dakota law currently allows people to access private land, regardless of whether or not they are hunting, if there are no signs posted. If the land is posted and a person is found on private property, that individual can be charged with criminal trespassing.
If you have been charged with criminal trespass or another property crime, Fargo, North Dakota criminal defense attorney Nick Thornton can help.
At Fremstad Law, our mission is to move our clients forward. Learn more about our criminal defense practice and the cases we handle, meet our people, and contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.
© 2021 Fremstad Law