One of the more common, and avoidable, criminal charges that a Utah hunter can face is that of criminal trespass for entering onto or hunting on another person’s private property. Generally, hunting is allowed on private land in Utah unless the land is properly posted. The posting tells hunters that no trespassing or hunting is permitted or that hunting is allowed only with permission from the owner or person in charge.
Try to find a back entry onto a posted property, or extend your activities beyond what has been agreed upon with the property owner, and you could find yourself charged under two Utah state statutes.
Under both of these statutes, it is a crime to enter a property without permission and a crime to refuse to leave a property when asked. If you are charged you can face criminal as well as civil penalties, including fines and orders for restitution in payment for actual damages and, in some cases, punitive damages.
Utah Wildlife Code 23-20-14. While hunting, fishing or engaging in wildlife-related activities on land posted as private, a person may not: a) enter onto the privately owned land of a person or a company without permission of the owner or person in charge, b) refuse to leave when requested to do so, and c) obstruct the entrance or exit to private property. Permission means the hunter has obtained written permission from the owner or person in charge.
Don’t assume permission is limitless. It protects both the hunter and the property owner when written authorization includes the dates for which permission was granted and a description of the parts of the property you have permission to access.
Furthermore, if you are on private property, you have an obligation to exercise “care in the use of the land.” In other words, you cannot deface or destroy things on the property or create hazardous conditions on the property (setting traps).
Utah Burglary and Criminal Trespass Code (Code Annotated section 76-6-206). A person is guilty of criminal trespass if he or she enters or remains on a property knowing that his or her presence is unlawful because notice has been given against entering by a) personal communication from the owner or someone in authority for the property, b) the presence of a fence or enclosure meant to exclude intruders, c) posting of signs that are likely to come to the attention of an intruder. Although this is only an infraction, it can result in significant fines and orders for restitution.
Utah’s Cooperative Wildlife Management Program
If the land you accessed was enrolled in the Utah Cooperative Wildlife Management Program, a degree of permission has been granted, but regulations still must be followed. Failure to comply with the regulations can result in criminal charges.
The hunter must hold a valid permit to hunt in this limited-entry hunt unit. If you enter onto a posted unit and don’t have a valid permit, you can be charged with both trespass and hunting without a proper permit. If you took an animal, you will also face a criminal charge for illegal taking and possession of wildlife (or multiple charges if you took more than one animal).
There are numerous ways to defend against a criminal trespass charge. A hunting violations defense attorney can review your defense options with you. If the property owner has been lax in posting or the property owner has known of past entrance onto the property, but has not taken action in the past, you may have a relatively strong defense.