Burglary and Home Invasions in Alabama

In Alabama, a home invasion may be charged as criminal trespass or burglary. Learn the difference between the two crimes and their penalties.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated July 28, 2020

In Alabama, a home invasion can be charged as criminal trespass or burglary.

Criminal trespass occurs when someone unlawfully enters, or remains in, a building or other premises without permission. Burglary takes it one step further. Basically, burglary is criminal trespass plus intent to commit a crime.

The penalties for criminal trespass and burglary generally depend on the type of property and circumstances involved. (More on this below.)

How Alabama Defines Criminal Trespass and Burglary

The following definitions apply to both criminal trespass and burglary in Alabama.

Entering or remaining unlawfully. A person "enters or remains unlawfully" when not invited, licensed, or allowed to be on the premises. If the person was initially allowed to be on the premises but is later asked to leave by the owner or other authorized person (like a tenant), remaining on the premises constitutes trespass.

Dwelling. Under Alabama law, a dwelling is any building (or part of a building) or vehicle that is used or normally used for sleeping, living, or lodging. Examples of dwellings include a house, apartment, college dorm, recreational vehicle (RV), or hotel room.

Criminal Trespass of a Home or Dwelling

A person commits criminal trespass by unlawfully entering or remaining on another's premises without permission. Alabama's law increases the penalties for criminal trespass depending on where the trespass occurred.

Offense levels. Criminal trespass that involves entering or remaining on real property, buildings, or open premises without permission constitutes second- or third-degree criminal trespass. When criminal trespass involves a dwelling (defined above), the crime increases to a first-degree offense.

Penalty. First-degree criminal trespass of a dwelling constitutes a class A misdemeanor in Alabama, punishable by not more than one year in jail and a fine up to $6,000.

(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-7, -12; 13A-7-1, -2 (2020).)

Burglary and Home Invasion Burglary

Alabama defines burglary as criminal trespass with the added requirement that the defendant intends to commit a crime. Traditionally, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony. But modern burglary laws apply to unlawful entry into any building (not just homes), don't require actual "breaking" into a building (unlawfully entering through an open window or door would suffice), and don't require that the crime occur at night.

As in most states, home invasion burglaries in Alabama are punished more severely than burglaries of other buildings. Depending on the circumstances, Alabama law makes burglary of a dwelling a first-, second-, or third-degree offense.

(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, -11; 13A-7-5 to -8 (2020).)

Burglary in the First Degree

First-degree burglary is the most serious type of home invasion. The circumstances involved in a first-degree burglary include unlawfully entering a dwelling (occupied or not) with intent to commit a crime, and the defendant:

  • is armed with explosives, a deadly weapon, or dangerous instrument
  • injures any person (other than someone involved in the crime), or
  • uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument during entry, while inside, or during escape.

To be charged with first-degree burglary based on being armed with a weapon, the defendant must have the weapon upon entry. If a person steals a weapon while in the home but does not use or threaten to use it, the crime would fall under second- or third-degree burglary.

A person convicted of first-degree burglary commits a class A felony, punishable by a minimum of 10 years' imprisonment up to life and a fine up to $60,000.

Burglary in the Second Degree

A person commits second-degree burglary by unlawfully entering a lawfully occupied "dwelling-house" intending to commit a theft or a felony. Second-degree burglary is most akin to the original definition of burglary (breaking and entering a home at night with intent to commit a felony). While the law does not define "dwelling-house," the courts have decided it simply means "dwelling." (Scott v. State, 570 So.2d 813 (Ala. Crim. App. 1990).)

Second-degree burglary is a class B felony. A person convicted of a class B felony faces two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $30,000.

Burglary in the Third Degree

A burglary into a dwelling involving no other aggravating circumstances (weapons, threats, occupied home) constitutes third-degree burglary, which is a class C felony. A class C felony carries a penalty of not less than one year and a day and not more than 10 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $15,000.

Possession of Burglar's Tools

Alabama also makes it a crime to possess any tools or instruments that are designed or commonly used to commit a burglary or theft, when the person intends to use the tools for that illegal purpose. For example, a person who possesses bolt cutters and intends to use them to break into a locked shed to steal a car could be convicted of possession of burglar tools. However, a locksmith who possesses tools to pick an apartment lock with the permission of the (locked out) homeowner isn't committing a crime.

Possession of burglar's tools is a class C felony, which carries a minimum sentence of a one year and a day's imprisonment up to a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment and a fine up to $15,000.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

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 protect your rights and help you navigate the criminal justice system and understand the consequences of a plea deal or criminal record.

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