Attorney for corner crossing case moves to dismiss charges

Screenshot showing a corner crossing example of two public land parcels with private land near it from goHUNT Maps.

Last October, four Missouri hunters used a ladder to cross from a section of public U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Wyoming to another. This is known as corner crossing and often falls in the legal gray area. However, because Brad Cape, Phillip Yoemans, John Slowensky and Zach Smith technically stepped over an area where two of the corners were public land and the other two were private land, the four men now face criminal trespass charges in Carbon County.

This week, the attorney for one of the four hunters requested the judge “dismiss the count against his client and the three other defendants” stating that the men “avoided ‘entering into or intruding upon any part of the private sections of land at the corner,’” according to WyoFile

“Federal law prohibits any person or group of persons from preventing Mr. Yeomans, his friends, or others from freely passing through public lands,” according to the motion for dismissal. “Consequently, private landowners cannot prevent or obstruct free passage from one section of public land to another by claiming that the common corner where two private sections of land and two public sections of land meet is their exclusive property, land, or premises.

“Accordingly, the State of Wyoming cannot prosecute Mr. Yeomans or any other person for criminal trespass when Mr. Yeomans or another person travels from one section of public land to another section of public land at a common corner with two sections of private land,” the motion reads.

As goHUNT previously reported, corner crossing falls into a legal gray area and is an issue many western hunters are aware of navigating. It occurs when you step from one corner of public land to another, crossing over corners of private land to do so. According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), “crossing or entering private lands without landowner’s permission may result in a violation of Wyoming’s game and fish or criminal trespass statutes.” However, corner crossing isn’t the same as blatantly walking across private land to public. In fact, in 2004, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office issued an official opinion that acknowledged the difficulty in determining whether corner crossing violated that game and fish trespass statute.

Yet, the case in point is a bit tricky as the details document in the motion, per WyoFile:

  • On Sept. 26, 2021, the four hunters set up camp on BLM land.
  • On Sept. 30, 2021, Steve Grende, land manager for Elk Mountain Ranch, reported a trespass to WGFD officer Jake Miller. When Miller arrived, he discovered that all four hunters (still “clad in camo and carrying bows”) used a fence latter to cross the corner, relying on a route on a hunt-mapping app as proof that they did not trespass.
    “This ‘picture’ … does not show that the hunters had ever entered into private sections of land owned by Elk Mountain Ranch,” states the motion.
  • However, because the GPS device is only “accurate to 30 feet,” the hunters said that they “sought out the corner marker at every corner of public land before crossing the corner using their fence ladder,” according to the motion.
  • Grende and Miller then “granted the hunters permission to recover certain elk meat that they had harvested from public land across the corner from the section of public land where the hunters’ base camp was located due to the perishable nature of that meat in the field.”
  • On Oct. 4, 2021, all four hunters were charged with trespassing.

However, the motion states that Grende “was dissatisfied” and upon further conversations “about the law” requested that citations were issued. 

Attorney Ryan Semerand argues that federal law supports the dismissal of the charges because it “prohibits any person from preventing free passage over or through public lands,” meaning that “a person must have the freedom to travel from one section of public and to another distinct, but physically adjoining section of public land.” 

“[T]he state’s application of trespass law actually conflicts with federal laws,” Semerand wrote. “Accordingly the State’s application of Wyoming’s criminal trespass statute here is preempted by the federal law on point such that this prosecution ought to be dismissed.”

Semerad is also trying to consolidate the four trespass cases – of which the men have all pleaded not guilty. If found guilty of the trespass charges, all could be sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison and required to pay a $750 fine. 

What do you think? Should the case be dismissed or did they, in fact, trespass?


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