Burglary and Home Invasions in New Jersey

In New Jersey, a person who goes into a building or onto another’s property without permission can be charged with trespass. A person who goes into a building with the intent of committing a crime inside an be charged with burglary, a more serious offense. Although most states punish more severely home invasion burglaries, New Jersey does not. For more information on these crimes, see  Home Invasions,  Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and  Trespassing Penalties.

Burglary

In the past, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a crime punishable by incarceration (a felony) inside. Today, almost all states have done away with most or all of these requirements. In New Jersey, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering or remaining (in hiding or in secret) in a structure or a research facility without permission with the intent to commit a crime inside. A person also commits burglary by trespassing onto property belonging to a utility company with the intent to commit a crime there, when the property is fenced or has “No Trespassing” signs posted.

Structure.  Under New Jersey law, a “structure” is any building, room, ship, vehicle, or airplane, or any place adapted for sleeping or business. For example, any building such as a garage, shed, or storefront is a structure. Boats, cars, and trucks are also structures. Places such as a tent or yurt used for sleeping or business are also structures. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § § 2C:18-1, 2C:18-2.)

Without permission.  A defendant has permission to enter a building only if it is open to the public at the time of entry. For example, a grocery store during business hours is open to the public. A grocery store that closes at 8:00 pm is not open to the public at midnight. A person who does not work at the store and who at any time enters into the attached warehouse, employee break room, manager’s office, or any other part of the store that is not open to the public does so without permission.

Aggravated Burglary

 Burglary is punished more severely if during the crime or escape:

  • the defendant inflicts (or attempts or threatens to inflict) bodily injury on anyone, or
  • the defendant is armed with or displays what appears to be a deadly weapon or an explosive.

Intent to Commit a Crime

 In order to convict a person of burglary, the prosecuting attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered the structure with intent to commit a crime inside. For example, a person who enters a vehicle to take a joyride has committed burglary. The defendant’s illicit intention is generally determined by the circumstances, and the prosecutor is not required to establish exactly what was going through the defendant’s head. For example, if someone runs from a police officer and breaks into a person’s home to hide, it could be inferred that the person entered the house in order to elude police, which is a crime.  

The crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters the building or vehicle with the illicit intent, even if the intended crime never occurs. The defendant can also be convicted of the intended crime if it is completed or attempted.

Trespass

Under New Jersey law, a person commits the crime of criminal trespass by entering onto any property when the defendant knows that he or she does not have permission to be there, either because he or she has been told, or because the property is enclosed or fenced or signs are posted.

A person also commits trespass by entering and remaining hidden in a structure. This type of trespass is punished more severely if the structure is:

  • a school or a building on school property
  • a dwelling (a place where people sleep)
  • the secure portion of an airport
  • on property owned by a utility company, or
  • a research facility, power facility, waste or water treatment facility, or any similar facility.

Trespass is also punished more severely if defendant peers into the window of a dwelling or other place where people live, with the intent to invade a person’s privacy and under circumstances where the occupant would expect not to be observed. This crime is also called being a “Peeping Tom.” For example, a defendant who goes into a person’s backyard so that he can look into a bedroom could be convicted of trespassing.

It is a defense to a charge of trespassing that:

  • the building was abandoned
  • the building was open to the public and defendant did not go anywhere the public was not permitted, or
  • the defendant believed the owner (or some other person in charge) would have allowed defendant into the building or to peer into the window.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:18-3.)

Burglary Tools

Most states, including New Jersey, make it a crime to possess or manufacture burglary tools. New Jersey criminalizes possessing or making any engine, machine, or tool designed or commonly used to force entry or commit theft with the intent to use the tool to commit a crime or to give or sell it someone else who intends to use it to commit a crime. It is also a crime to publish instructions on how to use or make burglary tools. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:5-5.)  For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see  Burglary Tools.

Punishment

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.

Aggravated trespass, including being a Peeping Tom, is a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Otherwise, trespass is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

Making burglary tools or publishing plans for burglary tools is a crime in the fourth degree. Otherwise, possessing burglary tools is a disorderly persons offense. For more information on sentencing, see  New Jersey Misdemeanor (Disorderly Person) Crimes by Class and Sentences  and  New Jersey Felony (Indictable Offense) Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with any crime in New Jersey, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney. Only an experienced attorney can explain how your case is likely to fare in court, answer your questions, and help you decide the best way to proceed in order to, hopefully, keep you out of prison or jail. Working with a good attorney is the best way to protect your rights.

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