A federal court recently acquitted an individual who spent the night asleep in his car in a national forest area where camping was prohibited. The court held that the individual must have intended to camp in the area in order to violate the regulation which prohibited camping, but the government did not present any evidence as to the individual’s intent. As the court held, “to obtain a conviction for camping in a designated ‘no camping’ area, the government must present some evidence that the charged party had the original intention of spending the night in the area.”
The court’s decision hinged on the regulation requiring that a person must be in an area “for the purpose of overnight occupancy” in order for them to be viewed as camping. In the case at issue, the evidence showed that a Forest Protection Officer found the individual asleep in his car in the early morning in an area that was clearly marked with no camping signs. In addition, the person admitted he had spent the night in that location in his car. However, the government did not present any evidence as to how the individual came to be in that situation. The court noted that there was no evidence presented, such as a sleeping bag in the car or a campfire nearby, which indicated the individual arrived at the area with the intention of spending the night in that spot. Based on the requirement that camping involves an intent to camp, the court commented that someone whose car breaks down in a ‘no camping’ area and spends the night would not have been “camping.” Because there was no evidence of any intent to camp, the court found the individual not guilty of violating the regulation.