All states, including Alabama, have laws that prohibit burglary (going into a building that belongs to someone else in order to commit a crime). A “home invasion” is a type of burglary, and involves going into someone else’s home in order to commit a crime, such as theft or assault. In Alabama, a home invasion may be charged as trespass (entering onto property without permission) or burglary (a more serious offense). Home invasion burglary carries very stiff penalties, and can be punished by up to life imprisonment. For general information on home invasions and related crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.
Alabama has several laws that criminalize trespass. A person in Alabama commits the most serious trespass offense, criminal trespass in the first degree, by entering or remaining in a dwelling, knowing that he or she does not have permission to be there. The entry into the home must be physical. Shooting a bullet or throwing something into a home does not constitute an entry for the purpose of trespass or burglary laws in Alabama. (Ala. Code § § 13A-7-1, 13A-7-2.)
Permission. People enter or remain in a dwelling without permission when they are not invited or allowed to be there. For example, a friend who is invited to spend the night and gets rowdy cannot be charged or convicted of trespassing unless the owner first asks the friend to leave – making it clear that the friend is no longer welcome. Oftentimes, a person who uses force or threats to enter a dwelling is presumed to have done so without permission. For example, an ex-boyfriend who forces his way into a home at gunpoint could be convicted of trespass, even if he previously was welcomed into the house. However, any person in Alabama who trespasses while armed will almost certainly be charged with first degree burglary, a much more serious offense than trespass, discussed below.
Dwelling. Under Alabama law, a dwelling is any building (or part of a building) or vehicle that is used or normally used for sleeping or living. For example, a house is a dwelling, as is a condominium, a dorm room, a houseboat, an RV, and a hunting lodge, even if the lodge is not used everyday.
Traditionally, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Under Alabama’s laws, burglary is trespass of a building with the added requirement that the defendant intends to commit a crime inside the building. As in most states, home invasion burglaries in Alabama are punished more severely.
The defendant’s illicit intention is generally determined by the circumstances. For example, if a person breaks into a home through a window and is found rifling through the owners’ jewelry with a bag in hand, the circumstances tend to show that the person entered the home intending to commit theft.
A person commits the crime of second degree burglary by entering an occupied “dwelling-house” with the intent to commit a felony or theft inside. Alabama’s lawmakers have not defined dwelling-house and it is not clear whether the word has the same meaning as dwelling. Nonetheless, it certainly applies to a residential house. For example, a person who walks into a home through an unlocked door while the home’s owners are sleeping, intending to steal a laptop, has committed second degree burglary. If the occupants are not home, then the crime is less serious, and is punished as third degree burglary. Burglary of other buildings, such as commercial offices or stores, is third degree burglary if the defendant is unarmed and second degree burglary if the defendant is armed or anyone is injured.
First degree burglary is the sort of armed home invasion that strikes fear in the hearts of everyone and is most likely to end in violence. First degree burglary, which is punished most severely, occurs when the defendant enters a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime inside and the defendant or a co-defendant:
For first degree burglary, it does not matter whether the home is occupied. However, Alabama law exempts a person who merely acquires a weapon during the burglary from being convicted of the more serious offense. For example, a person who commits an unarmed burglary and steals an unloaded gun but does not use it or threaten to use it cannot be convicted of first degree burglary. (Ala. Code § § 13A-7-5, 13A-7-6, 13A-7-7.)
In many states, including Alabama, it is a crime to possess any tools or instruments that are designed for or commonly used to forcibly enter a building or other property or for theft, if the person possesses the tools with the intent to use them to commit burglary, trespass, or theft. For example, a person who possesses bolt cutters with the intent to use them to cut a padlock off of someone’s garage could be convicted of possession of burglar tools. However, locksmiths who carry tools for picking locks – with the owner’s blessing – have not committed a crime. (Ala. Code § 13A-7-8.) For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglar’s Tools.
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. Possession of burglar's tools is also a Class C felony. Burglary in the second degree is a Class B felony, punishable by two to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $30,000. Burglary in the first degree is a Class A felony, punishable by ten to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of as much as $60,000. For more information on sentencing in Alabama, see Alabama Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Alabama Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
If you are charged with trespass, burglary, or any other crime as a result of a home invasion, talk to an Alabama criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court, based on the charges and the assigned judge and prosecutor. With an attorney’s help, you can protect your rights and successfully navigate the criminal justice system.