It appears that the word "POSTED" on private property signs is, in some jurisdictions, legally significant.

Has anyone ever been acquitted of trespassing, or any property owner lost a lawsuit, because a sign that clearly marked a property boundary and prohibited public access did not say "POSTED"?

  • In jurisdictions where the law really does require "POSTED", you would not particularly expect acquittals due to its lack: prosecutors would know about this law, and not bother to bring cases that they know they will lose. Ditto for plaintiff's attorneys in civil cases. Nov 16, 2022 at 1:58

1 Answer 1


Has anyone ever been acquitted of trespassing, or any property owner lost a lawsuit, because a sign that clearly marked a property boundary and prohibited public access did not say "POSTED"?

No. As a general rule, trespass of land (in legal speak, trespass refers to a wide variety of concepts that includes the commonly understood definition of the word, which we will use here to mean "trespass of land" unless noted otherwise) is not a statutory crime and requires a guilty mind in order to be convicted, that is, the person guilty of trespass must know at the time of the trespass that they were trespassing.

While the "posted" notice of trespass is a great way to communicate to people who are about to enter property that they are trespassing, thus removing their ignorance of their trespass if caught, it's not the only means. A barrier of some kind (such as a fence or a wall) or the placement of a clearly privately owned structure or modification (such as a field of corn or other crop field) and generally any structure that with a sealed interior (a house, a barn, a public building that is locked).

The word "Posted" does have a legal meaning but it has nothing to do with trespass. According to [For The People's Law Dictionary's][1] definition on the matter posted means:

. 1) to place a notice on the entrance or a prominent place on real property

Essentially, the word on "Do Not Trespass Signs" is stating that the notice has been placed by someone with the legal authority to place it (I.E. the property owner) to put others on notice that proceeding past the sign will be an act of trespassing (some people will place the notice set a little way back from the legal property line such that if you can read it, you are already trespassing... thus giving then legal ground to prosecute you if you refuse to leave the area adjacent to the property trespassed).

As intent is important, a defense to trespass is either ignorance OR unwillingness. In the later, one can claim they were not trespassing in a situation where they were unwillingly forced to trespass by a third party. This is not to say the trespass did not occur, but that the party responsible is not the person who was forced to do it but the party who was forcing someone to trespass against their will.

Additionally, it's usually assumed that you are trespassing if you enter private property with an armed weapon when there is no reasonable explanation to do so. The Posted Sign is generally seen on private property that is wooded or near public hunting grounds, as a hunter with a gun would not meet this definition unless they knowingly entered the private property.

In the United States, castle doctrine has been ruled to be constitutionally protected, and generally allows self-defense up to and including leathal force against people who are trespassing on property. One does not need to post a sign to warn people that deadly force will be used against someone, but many do so as a means to remove all doubt if something is to happen. These notices can be full of legal language (See a picture of the warning against Trespassing from Area 51) to non-legal (Many houses will simply post warnings to "Beware of Dog" to warn against a guard dog) to merely implied threats (even if you disagree with the NRA, a "I support the NRA" sign on your front lawn implies that potential robbers may find an owner with a gun.) to darkly humorous ("Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again" or "Forget about the dog, beware of Colt .45."). Many gun owners will hang nothing, since advertising fire arms is a good way to make yourself more likely to be robbed (Fun fact, in the U.S. almost all home robberies are conducted when the residents are likely to not be home because gun ownership is a legal right and even the states with the strictest gun laws cannot legally prosecute a homeowner for shooting an intruder.).

In effect, the language of the "No Trespassing Sign" need not require specific language other than letting someone know that the property is private and even then is only done so for land that might not be readily apparent to be private (It's not uncommon for property development to be no where near or visible to a property line in many rural places. Many people live in rural places specifically to avoid people by preference.

[1]: https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/posted#:~:text=1)%20to%20place%20a%20notice,complete%20service%20of%20the%20notice.

  • 2
    "Posted" does have specific legal meaning connected to trespass in some US states. As law.stackexchange.com/a/83154/17500 says "In New York, the word "POSTED", along with the name and address of the owner is sufficient to notify people not to intrude" and law.stackexchange.com/a/83125/17500 cites laws in several US states which "provide that the presence of the word "posted" on a sign has special significance." That does not mean that the word is required to notify a person that entry is unwelcome and constitutes trespassing. Other words will do. Dec 16, 2022 at 4:43
  • "is not a statutory crime and requires a guilty mind" It's a common law offense? Or was "statutory" supposed to be "strict liability" or something? Apr 14, 2023 at 23:38
  • @Acccumulation A statutory crime is one that is not the codification of a common law crime and exists solely because of a legislative enactment.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 3 at 23:20
  • @ohwilleke Technically, codified laws are statutory. Yes, a judge has to write down a decision for a common law to become law, but it's an interpretation of a statutory law that isn't codified in the statute.
    – hszmv
    Jan 5 at 11:55

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