New legislation in effect to deter trespassing

By Megan Loiselle

Parents, legal guardians and vehicle owners are now liable for civil penalties when youth under 16 trespass on private land using a motor vehicle. A triple threat is in effect in Illinois after a new piece of legislation was passed on Jan. 1, 2006.

The last piece of legislation, along with two passed in August, is meant to deter trespassers, said Donald Uchtmann, a professor in the Agricultural Law Group in the College of ACES.

As of August 2005, trespassers of all ages face a Class A misdemeanor for driving motor vehicles on farmland without permission. The maximum jail time has doubled to one year and the maximum fine has increased to $2,500.

The fines also increased for criminal damage to immovable agricultural property, such as grain elevators, in August of 2005. If the damage exceeds $100,000, the crime is considered a Class 1 felony with up to 15 years in prison.

“There are responsible and irresponsible ways of doing this,” Uchtmann said.

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Uchtmann said the laws are broad in their definition of motor vehicles, but does not include snowmobiles. In laws pertaining to property damage, no vehicle is necessary.

As far as criminal damage to property, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said there are between four to six instances a year.

Steve Nelson, a farmer in Mahomet, Ill., said two young people on all terrain vehicles, more commonly referred to as ATVs, have trespassed on his property. No damage was done, and the riders left when Nelson asked them to leave.

Young people might think it is a game or a thrill to drive an ATV on private property and get away with it, especially if they don’t have access to any other land, said Uchtmann.

John Ciciora, junior in LAS, said while he does not promote trespassing now, he did take his friends off-roading in his Jeep Wrangler a few years ago.

“I wanted to test out the four-wheel drive, and it had been raining,” Ciciora said. “We went to a big open field that looked like no one was using it.”

Ciciora said he had driven far into the field, which was nothing but mud. His Jeep got stuck, and someone passing by in a truck freed them. He found out that his four-wheel drive did not work.

“Our judgment was that (the field) was not in use,” Ciciora said.

Ciciora said no damage was done and he never came in contact with the police or the property owners, but still regrets the incident.

The field was not marked with a private property sign, he said. While the field did not look like it was being used for farming, it might have been planned for future development.

Ciciora advised people who are planning to go off-roading to examine all of the possibilities for legal off-roading.

“There are not many in the Midwest,” Ciciora said. “There is a desire and a demand. If a private group wanted to build one, it would only be mutually beneficial.”

Sam Selly, the general manager of Sportland Motorsports, 1600 N. Lincoln Ave, said he believes there are plenty of places for people to ride their ATVs.

“I can’t imagine it’d be too much fun,” Selly said about trespassing. “There are approved riding areas.”

There are also places to go four wheeling or ride an ATV in Taylorville and Casey, Ill., Selly said.

“It’s mostly younger people,” Walsh said. “It’s not a huge problem.”

Walsh said usually warnings are issued, and he is not aware of any arrests being made recently.