TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would enhance the penalties for trespassing on private or posted property if the trespasser has a firearm in his or her possession was approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee today by a vote of 4-0.
“When a hunter enters private property while wielding a firearm, the potential for a tragic outcome cannot be ignored,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “New Jersey provides designated areas for hunting, and most hunters can recognize which areas are out of bounds. However, for those one or two cases when a hunter strays beyond the acceptable boundaries and into someone’s backyard, both the homeowner’s safety and the safety of the hunter are now in jeopardy, and we need to have strong penalties to deter hunters from going too far.”
Senator Vitale’s bill, S-1507, would upgrade the penalties for trespassers on private or posted property for the purpose of hunting when that trespasser possesses a firearm. Under the bill, a hunter would be subject to a fine of between $500 and $1,000 for a first offense, and $1,000 to $2,000 for second, and subsequent offenses. If the hunter is in defiant trespass, meaning that the trespasser stays on private property despite notice having been given of trespass, either verbally, through postings or enclosure designed to exclude intruders, the hunter may be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Additionally, hunters convicted under this bill would forfeit their hunting license for two years for a first offense, and five years for all subsequent offenses.
Current law designates a fine of $100 to $200 for a first offense and $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses for trespassing for the purposes of hunting, and a fine of not more than $500 and/or up to 30 days imprisonment for defiant trespassing.
“The current penalties don’t seem to be strong enough to really deter hunters from crossing property lines, and considering that, in some instances, hunters are literally coming to homeowners’ back doors with loaded, lethal weapons, we need to do better,” said Senator Vitale. “This bill puts teeth in the trespassing laws on the books, when the trespasser is wielding a firearm, to head off the possibility that someone might get injured or possibly even killed, by a stray hunter.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.