In Florida, a person who goes into a building or vehicle owned by someone else intending to commit a crime, such as theft, can be charged with burglary. Some burglaries, such as armed burglaries and home invasion burglaries, can result in long prison sentences. People who go onto other people's property without permission can also be charged with trespass, a less serious crime. For more information on these crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.
Historically, burglary was limited to breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony (a crime punishable by state prison time) inside. Today, most of these requirements have been done away with but many states, including Florida, punish more severely burglaries of dwellings (also called home invasion burglaries) and burglaries of occupied buildings.
A person commits burglary in Florida by entering a dwelling (a place where people sleep), building, or vehicle without permission with the intent to commit a crime inside. A person can enter without permission either by breaking down a door, sneaking inside, or by obtaining permission by lying, such as a couple that says they need to use the phone, but really intend to commit a robbery.
In Florida, a person cannot burglarize property that is open to the public, so long as the defendant remains in the part of the property that is open. For example, a shoplifter who goes into a store has not committed burglary (only theft or attempted theft). But if a person goes into the employee break room, which is normally closed to the public, and steals, the person could be charged with theft and burglary.
A person also commits burglary in Florida by remaining in a dwelling, building, or vehicle intending to commit a crime, even if the defendant was initially invited in, when the defendant:
For example, a person who attends a party at a house but then hides in a back bedroom, intending to steal the host’s jewelry after the guests have left, could be convicted of burglary. (Fla. Stat. § 810.02.)
The most serious burglaries in Florida are those where the defendant:
Home invasion burglary, called burglary of a dwelling, is also punished more severely in Florida, along with burglaries of occupied buildings or vehicles, burglaries of emergency vehicles, and burglaries committed in order to steal controlled substances, such as the burglary of a pharmacy. Under Florida law, a “dwelling” is a building or vehicle designed for sleeping, such as an RV, a room in a boarding house, or an apartment. A dwelling can be occupied or unoccupied. (Fla. Stat. § 810.011.)
In order to be convicted of burglary, the defendant must enter or remain with the intent to commit a crime. How does a prosecutor prove the defendant’s state of mind? Unless the defendant confesses to what he or she was thinking, intent must usually be determined by the circumstances. For example, evidence that defendant entered an apartment in the middle of the night with a flashlight and a knife, and was found crawling around tends to show the defendant entered the apartment intending to commit a crime.
The crime of burglary is complete as soon as the defendant enters into the building or vehicle with the illicit intent, even if no crime ever occurs. For example, a defendant who gets into a car, intending to steal it, but passes out drunk has committed burglary, and could be convicted of attempted theft as well.
In Florida, it is also a crime to cut a phone or power line (or damage related equipment) in the course of a burglary or attempted burglary. (Fla. Stat. § 810.061.)
Like most states, Florida also makes it a crime to possess a burglary tool with the intent to use it or allow it to be used to commit burglary or trespass. What is a burglary tool? Under Florida law, it is any tool, machine, or equipment that a person intends to use for burglary or trespass. It all depends on the defendant’s intent. For example, it is perfectly legal to own an acetylene torch for welding, but possessing the same object is a crime if the defendant intends to use it to cut holes in steel doors and enter buildings to commit thefts. (Fla. Stat. § 810.06.)
For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglary Tools.
A person commits trespass by entering or remaining on property without permission from the owner. Florida has several trespass laws, each of which protects a different type of property, including:
Any person who goes on school property without legitimate business is a trespasser, as is a student that has been suspended or expelled. School trespass is punished more severely if the defendant is asked to leave by a school official, and a school official may detain (stop) a trespasser and hold the person until the police arrive.
A person also commits trespass by going into the yards of homes intending to commit a crime there, or by littering, opening a gate or door to allow animals to escape, or otherwise doing anything that damages or ruins farm animals or crops or other property.
Trespass is punished more severely if the building or vehicle is occupied, or if the land is a designated restricted site, such as a construction site, commercial farm, or agricultural research site. These restricted sites must have posted signs. Trespass is also punished more severely if the trespasser is armed. The property’s owner or tenant may detain and hold an armed trespasser until the police arrive. (Fla. Stat. § § 810.08, 810.09, 810.095, 810.097.)
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. Home invasion burglary is a felony of the second degree, punishable by up to 15 years and a fine of not more than $10,000, as is burglary of an occupied vehicle or building, an emergency vehicle, or burglary to commit theft of a controlled substance. Armed and violent burglaries are punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Trespass while armed is also a felony of the third degree, as is trespass of a restricted site. Trespass of schools and unoccupied buildings and vehicles is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500. Otherwise, trespass is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $1,000. For more information on sentencing, see Florida Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Florida Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
A conviction for burglary or trespass can result in time in prison, a fine, and a serious criminal record. If you are charged with one of these crimes, or any crime, you should talk to a Florida criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be able to help you understand the law and how your case is likely to fare in court. An attorney can help you protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.