Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing

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When most people think of burglary, they think of a thief in a black outfit sneaking into someone's home or a museum in the middle of the night. While such activity definitely counts as burglary, the legal definition applies to a much broader range of activities. Though state laws differ slightly in how they categorize burglaries, it is a crime in every state and one that often comes with significant penalties.

What Constitutes Burglary?

A person commits burglary when he enters a building with the intent to commit a crime within. To show that a burglary occurred, a prosecutor must produce evidence on the following points, and convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt on each of them.

A building or structure

It used to be that burglary laws applied only when someone broke into another person's house or dwelling. Today, the law prohibits anyone from entering into any structure, and not just a home. Many state laws identify the types of structures that count as a building for burglary crimes. They include stores, school buildings, houseboats, trailer homes, and even tents or campsites. Some states also differentiate between burglary of a commercial space and residential burglary, punishing residential burglary more harshly. For residential burglary, the building must be a home, apartment, or some type of building in which a person lives.

Illegal entry

The prosecutor must also prove that the accused entered the building illegally or without permission. This means that the building must be either a private one or a public one that was not open or otherwise publicly accessible. Illegal entry also applies to a person who enters a structure that’s open to the public, but with the intent to commit a crime inside—like a person who walks into a store with the intent to steal merchandise. The reasoning is that the owner’s permission has been extended only to those who enter for legitimate purposes; when the thief entered for illegal purposes, that permission did not apply, and the entry became one without permission.

The crime of burglary also requires that the defendant enter the building. A person’s entire body need not enter—the crime still occurs if the person simply reaches into a building or uses a tool to perform the illegal entry.

Use of force

Burglary in some states also involves “breaking” into the building. Any type of forced entry, no matter how minimal, is enough to satisfy this requirement. For example, it's enough for an accused person to open a door knob or lift an unlocked window to satisfy the use of force requirement. Many states, however, have dispensed with the requirement that the defendant break in; thus, walking freely through a store entrance, intending to steal goods, can be a burglary (see “Illegal entry,” above).

Intent to commit a felony

To convict someone of burglary, a prosecutor must prove that the person entered the building with the intent to commit a felony or a theft. Typically, a person convicted of burglary intends to enter the building in order to steal something, though any felony (and, in some states, misdemeanor thefts) will suffice. This means, for example, that it's still a burglary when a person enters with an intent to steal but later changes his mind. Conversely, entering without the intent to commit a crime, and making that decision after you’ve entered, does not constitute burglary. For example, a guest who comes to a party with no illegal plans, but who sees a piece of artwork in the living room and there and then decides to steal it, has committed theft but not burglary.

Prosecutors typically show criminal intent from the circumstances of the case, and do not have to show exactly what was in the accused person's mind at the time. For example, if the partygoer described above came to the party with a suitcase and an elaborate story of why he happened to have that with him (“Oh, I just came from the airport!”), he would have a tough time defeating a burglary charge if he was caught leaving the home with the stolen artwork in an otherwise empty suitcase.

Penalties

Burglary is a serious crime and one that is typically charged as a felony offense, though some states allow for misdemeanor burglary charges in certain situations. A burglary conviction comes with several possible penalties, though the possible sentences for burglary convictions differ widely among states.

Jail or prison. Burglary convictions can bring a wide range of prison or jail sentences. A conviction for a felony burglary offense has a potential sentence that exceeds one year in a state prison. Depending on the state and circumstances of the case, a felony burglary conviction can result in 20 years or more in prison. A misdemeanor burglary charge can result in a sentence of up to a year in jail.

Fines. Burglary fines can be significant. Depending on the state, a fine for burglary can be $100,000 or more for a felony conviction. Misdemeanor fines are usually less than $1,000.

Restitution. Though you can commit a burglary without taking or damaging any property, a burglary that does result in property loss can also come with a restitution sentence. When a court orders you to pay restitution, you have to pay victims to compensate them for their losses, allowing them to repair or replace the damaged property. Restitution is in addition to any fines the court imposes.

Probation. Probation sentences are sometimes imposed in burglary cases. A judge can sentence a person to probation either independently of a prison or jail sentence or in addition to such a sentence. When you're on probation, you must comply with all the court's conditions or you risk having to serve the original jail or prison sentence. For example, courts usually require a person on probation to regularly report to a probation officer, as well as submit to drug testing, home searches, or other conditions.

Burglary Laws by State

Consult the chart below to get information for burglary and home invasion laws by state. Click the link to your state to find in-depth information.

State

Penalties At-A-Glance

Alabama

Criminal trespass is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000.

Burglary is a Class C felony, punishable by a minimum of one year and one day in prison and a maximum of ten years, as a well as fine of up to $15,000.

Alaska

Burglary is a class C felony. A class C felony conviction can result in a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $50,000.

Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. 

Arizona

Criminal trespass is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Second degree trespass is a class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to four months in jail and a fine of up to $750.

Arkansas

Aggravated residential burglary is a Class Y felony, which can result in a prison term of 10 to 40 years or life.

Residential burglary is a Class B felony, punishable by five to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

California Burglary with explosives is punishable by three, five, or seven years in prison. Burglary in the first degree is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison.
Colorado

First degree burglary and home invasion burglary are class 3 felonies, punishable by a state prison sentence of four to 12 years and a fine of $3,000 to $750,000.

Second and subsequent convictions may be punished more severely.

Connecticut

Home invasion is a class A felony, punishable by ten to 50 years’ or 25 years' to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000, and the defendant must serve at least ten years in prison.

Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony, punishable by one to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

Delaware

Burglary in the first degree is usually a class C felony (which can result in a prison term of up to 15 years) and second degree burglary is usually a class D felony (punishable by up to eight years in prison).

Home invasion is a class B felony, punishable by two to 25 years’ imprisonment.

D.C.

Home invasion burglary is punishable by five to 30 years in prison and a fine.

Second degree burglary is punishable by two to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Forcible entry is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine, or both. 

Florida

Burglary of an unoccupied vehicle or unoccupied building is a felony in the third degree, as is possession of burglary tools and cutting a phone or power line.

Third degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. 

Georgia

Burglary and possession of burglary tools are punishable by one to five years in prison. Home invasion burglary is punishable by one to 20 years in prison.

Subsequent burglary convictions are punished more severely. 

Hawaii

Burglary in the first degree and unauthorized entry in the first degree are class B felonies, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Burglary of a dwelling during an emergency is a class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.

Idaho

Burglary is punishable by one to ten years in prison. (Idaho Code Ann. § 18-1403.) Burglary with explosives is punishable by ten to 25 years in prison.

Possession of burglary tools and trespass by car are both misdemeanors, punishable by six months in jail, or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Illinois

Burglary is a Class 2 felony, which can result in a prison term of three to seven years.

Burglary of a residence, school, day care center, or place of worship is a Class 1 felony, punishable by four to 15 years in prison.

Indiana Under Indiana’s current law, burglary is a Class C felony (which can result in two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000) and more serious burglaries are Class A or B felonies (punishable by six to 50 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000).
Iowa Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony and occurs when the defendant enters an occupied structure with one or more people present, while any of several specified circumstances apply (for example, while the defendant possessed a firearm or explosive device, or if the defendant inflicted bodily injury on someone during the burglary). 
Kansas Burglary (including home invasion), aggravated burglary, and trespass may incur harsh fines and long prison terms, the severity of which depend on the circumstances of the crime (as determined by Kansas’ sentencing grid).
Kentucky First degree burglary is a class B felony, and includes knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully in a building (any structure, vehicle, water- or aircraft) with the intent to commit a crime there; and while doing so (or during the immediate flight from the crime) the defendant possessed an explosive or deadly weapon, caused physical injury to another person, or used (or threatened) to use a dangerous instrument against another person.
Louisiana Simple burglary includes unauthorized entry into a dwelling, vehicle, watercraft, or other structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to 12 years in prison, or both. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.)
Maine Burglary is a Class C crime, but increases to a Class B crime if the structure was a dwelling (that is, if the offense was a home invasion); if the defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicted (or attempted to commit) bodily injury on another person; or if the defendant had two or more prior convictions for certain specified crimes.
Maryland Burglary in the first degree includes breaking and entering the dwelling of another with the intent to commit a theft or crime therein. Penalties include up to 20 years in prison. (Md. Code Ann. § 6-202.) Home invasions fit here.
Massachusetts Penalties vary according to the circumstances of the crime, and increase for second and subsequent convictions. If no one was present in the dwelling, and the defendant was unarmed, penalties include up to 20 years in prison. If anyone (other than an accomplice) was present at the time of the crime, penalties increase to at least ten years (and up to life) in prison.
Michigan

Burglary is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.

A home invasion burglary sometimes incurs more severe fines and prison terms. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, penalties may include a fine of up to $2,000 (increasing to up to $5,000), a prison term of up to five years (increasing to up to 20 years), or both.

Minnesota Burglary in the first degree includes burglary of a dwelling when either another person is present (like a resident of the house, but not including an accomplice), the defendant possessed a dangerous weapon, or the defendant assaulted someone while committing the offense. Burglary in the first degree incurs at least six months in jail (and up to 20 years in prison), a fine of up to $35,000, or both.
Mississippi

Home invasion is punishable by at least three (and up to 25) years in prison. And increased penalties apply if a person (such as a resident of a dwelling) was present during the offense.

Burglary by breaking an inner door of a dwelling incurs up to ten years in prison.

Missouri

Burglary is a class C felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, or one year in jail, and a fine up to $5,000.

Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

Montana

Burglary is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.

Aggravated burglary is punishable by up to 40 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.

Trespass to a vehicle, and possession of burglary tools are all punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to six months in jail, or both.

Nebraska

Burglary is a Class III felony, punishable by one to 20 years in prison, a fine up to $25,000, or both.

First degree criminal trespass is a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.

Second degree trespass is a Class III misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail or a fine up to $500, or both.

Nevada

Burglary and home invasion are category B felonies, punishable by one to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Armed home invasion and burglary and burglary with explosives are punishable by two to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

New Hampshire Burglary while armed with a firearm is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Otherwise, aggravated burglary is a class A felony, punishable by seven years and six moths to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $4,000.
New Jersey Aggravated burglary is a crime of the second degree, punishable by five to ten years in prison and a fine up to $150,000. Otherwise, burglary is a crime of the third degree, punishable by three to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
New Mexico

Aggravated burglary is a second degree felony, punishable by up to nine years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Home invasion burglary is a third degree felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

New York

Burglary in the third degree is a class D felony, punishable by one to seven years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

Burglary in the second degree is a class C felony, punishable by one to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. First degree burglary is a class B felony, punishable by one to 25 years and a fine.

North Carolina Burglary in the first degree and burglary with explosives are Class D felonies, punishable by 38 to 160 months in prison, and burglary in the second degree is a Class G felony, punishable by 8 to 31 months in prison.
North Dakota

Burglary of a dwelling, armed or violent burglaries, and armed unlawful entry are class B felonies, punishable by up to ten years' imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Other burglaries and unlawful entries are class C felonies, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines.

Ohio Burglary is broken into three categories (in addition to aggravated burglary), each incurring prison terms according to severity of the crime.
Oklahoma Burglary is broken into several categories, with prison terms increasing according to the circumstances and severity of the crime.
Oregon It is a Class A misdemeanor to possess any implement designed or commonly used for burglary, with the intent to use the tool for that purpose, or while knowing that someone else intends to use it for a burglary.
Pennsylvania Burglary is a felony, with the degree of felony varying according to the underlying circumstances of the crime. For example, if any person (other than an accomplice) was present in the building at the time of the crime, burglary is a felony of the first degree. 
Rhode Island Penalties for a first offense include at least two (and up to ten) years in prison. This term increases, and may also include fines, for second and subsequent convictions. In addition to the applicable prison term, the judge may order the defendant to make restitution to the victim or victims (pay the victim back for damage the defendant caused), to perform up to 500 hours of public community restitution work, or both.
South Carolina

Burglary in the first degree is punished with life imprisonment.

Burglary in the second degree is punished with penalties up to 15 years in prison.

South Dakota

First degree burglary is a class 2 felony. Second degree burglary is a class 3 felony.

Third degree burglary is a class 5 felony.

Tennessee Burglary is a Class D felony. Aggravated burglary (also called "home invasion") is a Class C felony. Especially aggravated burglary is a Class B felony.
Texas

Burglary of a building that is not a habitation is a state jail felony.

Burglary of a habitation, or home invasion, is a second degree felony.

Utah Burglary that occurs in a building other than a dwelling is a third degree felony. And when the building was a dwelling the crime increases to a second degree felony.
Vermont Burglary that occurs in a structure other than an occupied dwelling (or that occurs in an unoccupied dwelling) incurs up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Virginia Burglary is usually a Class 3 felony, which incurs a fine of up to $100,000, up to 20 years in prison, or both. However, the offense increases to a Class 2 felony when the defendant was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of entry.
Washington

Burglary in the first degree is a class A felony, and occurs when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a building (a residence or nonresidence) with the intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein. 

Residential burglary is a class B felony, and refers to a burglary that occurs in a residence (a living space like a house, or apartment, but not including a vehicle).

West Virginia Daytime non-forcible entry into a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime inside is punishable by one to ten years in prison. Otherwise, home invasion burglary is punishable by one to 15 years in prison.
Wisconsin

Burglary is a Class F felony, punishable by up to 12 years and six months in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.

Aggravated burglary is a Class E felony, punishable by a fine of up to $50,000, up to 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. 

Wyoming

Burglary is punishable by up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Aggravated burglary is punishable by five to 25 years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.

Legal Advice

Burglary is a serious charge, and you should never make any decisions about your case without first talking to an experienced local defense attorney. A local criminal defense lawyer is the only person who can evaluate the strength of the evidence against you, assess any defenses you might have, and give you advice based on the laws of your state. Most importantly, a local and experienced lawyer will know how judges and prosecutors handle cases like yours—this information is known only to people who regularly practice criminal law in your area.

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