If you see purple in the woods, it’s not the work of obsessive-compulsive vandals but a warning: Stay out! That’s because Indiana’s new purple paint law has taken effect on July 1. This significant modification of Indiana’s trespassing law will have major impact on hunters, property owners and the troublemakers who give them heartburn.
Indiana has become the 14th state to add the purple paint concept in order to help address a major challenge that arises when trying to enforcing trespass law. Because a prosecutor must prove both the intent of the lawbreaker to trespass and, most critically, show that the person had been warned by some means to stay off the property, it can become challenging to get a trespass conviction.
Where someone has been verbally denied entry, it’s easy to prove the elements of the crime. However, in most situations the standard means of issuing such a warning is via a posted notice at the main entrance to the property. That’s easy to do in theory but in actual practice it can be difficult to convince a judge or jury that a trespasser had seen such a warning, especially on large sprawling properties without easy-to-see borders.
Trespassers often use this loophole to their advantage, sneaking onto property from other areas with the idea of claiming accidental trespass if they get arrested. Some landowners solve this dilemma by thoroughly posting their property with warning signs all along the perimeter.
However, most owners don’t do that because No Trespassing signs are expensive to purchase, labor-intensive to install and difficult to maintain. When you consider that such signs are often destroyed by the very people they are designed to deter, keeping a property posted against trespassers is a never-ending battle.
That’s where the purple paint law comes to the rescue. According to Indiana law, the other means of warning trespassers are still in effect but landowners can now use purple paint markings to deny entry. As paint marks are easy, quick and inexpensive to install, last for years and require no maintenance, they provide a much better means of warning off trespassers. Now, with a few hours of work and a gallon of purple paint, landowners can simply and clearly define their property even in rugged forested terrain.
The technical specifics of the marks are simple. On trees, they must be “readily visible to any person approaching the property,” and consist of a vertical line at least 8 inches in length with the bottom of the line at least three feet off the ground but no more than five feet high. The marks must be no more than 100-feet apart.
Posts or fences can also be used as markers. On a post at least the top two inches must be painted with the bottom of the mark at least three feet but not more than five-and-a-half feet from the ground. Such posts must be within thirty-six feet of each other. In cases of shared fence lines, all property owners must agree to the markings.
We talked to Captain Bill Browne, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division about enforcement of the new law. He pointed out that right now conservation officers are in teaching mode but that will change as hunting seasons arrive.
“We’re going to have to educate,” Browne said, “to the point where we believe that our citizens have gotten the information about this purple paint law. We’re educating like crazy right now.”
Browne pointed out that conservation officers don’t patrol private property for trespassers but respond to calls from landowners. That is where the new law will help facilitate both the arrest and prosecution of those scofflaws. “We will hold people accountable for a complaint of the landowner,” Browne said with certainty, “If they mark their property, stay off!”
Anyone who hunts, fishes or gathers wild food knows that it is easy to accidentally trespass where boundaries aren’t well marked. Browne says officers aren’t looking to make cases out of such instances. “Those mistakes aren’t what conservation officers are here for. This purple paint law is going to help us get through to that person who’s trying to deceive everyone. Ethical hunters are going to have no problem with this law,” Browne noted.
And that is why the purple paint law is needed and welcome by those who follow the rules. Most hunters and outdoors enthusiasts know that trespassers and poachers are the deadly one-two combination that ends up causing landowners to post their property in the first place. With the new law and a bucket of paint, it will be easier to exclude and prosecute those criminals who don’t care about property rights and give the rest of us a bad name.
That’s a pretty exciting prospect for a lowly can of odd-colored paint.
For more information:
Read Indiana Code 35-43-2-2 (Trespassing law including purple paint specifications)
Also listen to our conversation with Capt. Browne on WildIndiana Podcast Episode #17- Indiana’s Purple Paint Law