Montana: Fast Facts on Trespassing
Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land, Vehicles
Crime Class: Misdemeanor
Fencing Required?: No.
Signage Required?: Yes.
Verbal Notice Required?: No, but is required for barring specific persons if signage not posted.
Montana Trespassing Law Overview
Montana’s trespassing laws are noteworthy because of a strict reliance on signage for the trespassing laws to take effect on land.
It is plainly stated within the body of the text that without posted signage or specific notice given verbally to a person entering that privilege to enter and remain upon land is extended to them.
This means the property owners have to stay up-to-date and current on the law regarding signage, and ensure that all signs are placed at the requisite points along their property in a manner consistent with the law in order to have the protection of law.
We will break down Montana’s trespassing law, including the nitty-gritty on the signage requirements, just below.
Relevant Montana State Statutes
- 45-6-201. Definition of enter or remain unlawfully
- 45-6-202. Criminal trespass to vehicles
- 45-6-203. Criminal trespass to property
- 45-6-204. Burglary
As with all laws and all of my discussions of trespassing laws of the 50 U.S. states, the place to begin is always with the definitions.
The definitions of Montana are noteworthy because they are both the lengthiest section in the chapter covering trespassing, and also because they lay out what requirements are mandatory for posted notices and signage that will give property owners the protection of law when it comes to people trespassing on their land.
Due to the length and complexity of this section I will insert my commentary where appropriate notated by breaks. For the rest of the article I will place my commentary after a given section.
Section 45-6-201 contains the definitions we seek:
45-6-201. Definition of enter or remain unlawfully.
(1) A person enters or remains unlawfully in or upon any vehicle, occupied structure, or premises when the person is not licensed, invited, or otherwise privileged to do so.
Privilege to enter or remain upon land is extended either by the explicit permission of the landowner or other authorized person or by the failure of the landowner or other authorized person to post notice denying entry onto private land.
The privilege may be revoked at any time by personal communication of notice by the landowner or other authorized person to the entering person.
Montana does not pull any punches on the definition of entering or remaining unlawfully upon the premises of another.
Simply stated, any person who is not explicitly licensed, invited or legally privileged to enter a vehicle, occupied structure or any other premises, with the notable exception of land, is forbidden from doing so.
Regarding land, if the land is not posted with signs and specific notices that deny entry to that land then, legally, a person is not considered trespassing upon it.
But with that being said that privilege may be revoked at any time by personal communication from the landowner or any other authorized person sent by the landowner to the person entering or remaining upon the land.
In essence, as far as bare land is concerned, if there are no posted notices than anyone entering, the land must be told off.
(2) To provide for effective posting of private land through which the public has no right-of-way, the notice provided for in subsection (1) must satisfy the following requirements:
(a) notice must be placed on a post, structure, or natural object by marking it with written notice or with not less than 50 square inches of fluorescent orange paint, except that when metal fenceposts are used, the entire post must be painted; and
(b) the notice described in subsection (2)(a) must be placed at each outer gate and normal point of access to the property, including both sides of a water body crossing the property wherever the water body intersects an outer boundary line.
(3) To provide for effective posting of private land through which or along which the public has an unfenced right-of-way by means of a public road, a landowner shall:
(a) place a conspicuous sign no closer than 30 feet of the centerline of the roadway where it enters the private land, stating words substantially similar to “PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING OFF ROAD NEXT _ MILES”; or
(b) place notice, as described in subsection (2)(a), no closer than 30 feet of the centerline of the roadway at regular intervals of not less than one-fourth mile along the roadway where it borders unfenced private land, except that orange markings may not be placed on posts where the public roadway enters the private land.
(4) If property has been posted in substantial compliance with subsection (2) or (3), it is considered closed to public access unless explicit permission to enter is given by the landowner or the landowner’s authorized agent.
(5) The department of fish, wildlife, and parks shall attempt to educate and inform all persons holding hunting, fishing, or trapping licenses or permits by including on any publication concerning the licenses or permits, in condensed form, the provisions of this section concerning entry on private land.
The department shall use public media, as well as its own publications, in attempting to educate and inform other recreational users of the provisions of this section. In the interests of providing the public with clear information regarding the public nature of certain unfenced rural rights-of-way, the department may develop and distribute posting signs that satisfy the requirements of subsection (3).
(6) For purposes of this section, “land” means land as defined in 70-15-102.
(7) Civil liability may not be imposed upon the owner or occupier of premises by reason of any privilege created by this section.
This is a fairly substantial set of requirements that must be met and adhered to strictly for the law to grant trespass protection to the owner of land.
If you get the size and spacing requirements of the signage wrong, or do not mark fence posts appropriately, you do not have any trespass protection in Montana and people who would enter the land can do so freely, at least until you find them and tell them to get off your property.
It seems a little bit odd that a state so concerned with wide open spaces and personal responsibility would level such odious requirements on landholders, but you can read it for yourself.
The next section, 45-6-202 covers criminal trespass in vehicles:
45-6-202. Criminal trespass to vehicles.
(1) A person commits the offense of criminal trespass to vehicles when the person purposely or knowingly and without authority enters any vehicle or any part of a vehicle.
(2) A person convicted of the offense of criminal trespass to vehicles shall be fined not to exceed $500 or be imprisoned in the county jail for any term not to exceed 6 months, or both.
Compared to the definitions section this one is a breeze, and very brief. Any person who without authority enters any vehicle or any part of a vehicle is guilty of criminal trespassing in a vehicle, a charge which carries a $500 fine or imprisonment in the county jail for a term not to exceed 6 months, or potentially both.
Compared to the detail lavished upon the specifics of required posted signage for land this section is very sparse on details.
Considering the lack of embellishment, we can take these definitions to be as broad as they are written: it does not matter what kind of vehicle or what compartment of a given vehicle, be at large or small.
If you do not have authority to enter a vehicle, and you do, including potentially any part of your body by itself, you are committing criminal trespass to vehicle.
The very next section covers criminal trespass to property:
45-6-203. Criminal trespass to property.
(1) Except as provided in 15-7-139, 70-16-111, and 76-13-116, a person commits the offense of criminal trespass to property if the person knowingly:
(a) enters or remains unlawfully in an occupied structure; or
(b) enters or remains unlawfully in or upon the premises of another.
(2) A person convicted of the offense of criminal trespass to property shall be fined not to exceed $500 or be imprisoned in the county jail for any term not to exceed 6 months, or both.
(3) A person convicted of or who forfeits bond or bail for committing an act of criminal trespass involving property owned or administered by the department of fish, wildlife, and parks or while hunting, fishing, or trapping may be subject to revocation of the person’s privilege to hunt, fish, or trap in this state for up to 24 months from the date of conviction or forfeiture.
Once again, a comparatively sparse and brief section of the law compared to the definition section at the beginning of this chapter.
Simply entering or remaining unlawfully in any occupied structure or entering or remaining unlawfully in or upon any premises of another person (except where privilege is extended by omission of placing posted signage) is enough to warrant the charge of criminal trespass to property.
If you’re convicted of the offense of criminal trespass to property you’ll be fined $500 or imprisoned in the county jail up to six months, or both.
A few takeaways from the law as written: Entering or remaining unlawfully within an occupied structure or remaining in or upon the premises of another is enough to get the charge leveled against you, but what you should note is that Montana saw fit to make a distinction between an occupied structure and premises, here.
This is not to say that an unoccupied building may be trespassed in without charges, only that it may certainly fit under the legal definition of premises, and they only defined “unoccupied structure” as a separate category. This is conjecture.
But that does bring up one important point, and it is based upon the definition of burglary. As the law is written, it is not out of the question that trespassing in an occupied structure could, conceivably, be construed as burglary, a far more serious crime.
This does not take into account any legal precedent or case law; this determination is raised only from comparing the two sections as they are written.
In any case, I have included the complete and relevant statute on burglary below, and added my own emphasis in the text:
(1) A person commits the offense of burglary if the person knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in an occupied structure and:
(a) the person has the purpose to commit an offense in the occupied structure; or
(b) the person knowingly or purposely commits any other offense within that structure.
(2) A person commits the offense of aggravated burglary if the person knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in an occupied structure and:
(a) (i) the person has the purpose to commit an offense in the occupied structure; or
(ii) the person knowingly or purposely commits any other offense within that structure; and
(b) in effecting entry or in the course of committing the offense or in immediate flight after effecting entry or committing the offense:
(i) the person or another participant in the offense is armed with explosives or a weapon; or
(ii) the person purposely, knowingly, or negligently inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily injury upon anyone.
(3) A person convicted of the offense of burglary shall be imprisoned in the state prison for any term not to exceed 20 years or be fined an amount not to exceed $50,000, or both. A person convicted of the offense of aggravated burglary shall be imprisoned in the state prison for any term not to exceed 40 years or be fined an amount not to exceed $50,000, or both.
As you can see from the penalty schedule accompanying burglary- up to a $50,000 fine and potentially 20 years in prison- this is extremely serious.
Paragraph (1)(a) is what we are concerned with since it specifically says that a person who “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in an occupied structure and” “has the purpose to commit an offense in the occupied structure” means, potentially, that you would have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt you had no purpose beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in there to commit any other offense.
Potentially easier said than done in a court of law. Keep that in mind.
Montana is a state with trespassing laws that are a cinch, except of course their intricate and highly detailed requirements for all posted signage for land.
If you are a landowner and want to take advantage of the law’s trespassing protections, you will have to strictly adhere to the guidelines and requirements they have set down.
Aside from that, the only potential cause for concern in Montana is the loosely written law concerning trespassing inside of an occupied structure being entirely too similar for burglary and trespass.
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