Iowa's Laws on Burglary and Criminal Trespass

Learn how Iowa law penalizes the crimes of burglary, attempted burglary, and criminal trespass.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 20, 2023

Burglary typically involves an unauthorized entry of a structure, with the intent to commit a crime inside. In the past, a burglary was limited to "breaking and entering a home at night intending to steal." But these requirements no longer exist (for the most part). Each state has its own laws defining burglary and related crimes. Penalties vary according to the circumstances of the crime.

How Iowa Law Defines Burglary and Attempted Burglary

Iowa defines burglary as: (1) unlawfully entering or remaining in (2) an occupied structure (3) with the intent of committing a felony, assault, or theft inside. Attempted burglary differs from the crime of burglary only in that the defendant is unsuccessful in entering the structure. Let's break down these elements and terms.

Occupied Structure

Iowa's burglary statute applies to "occupied structures," which includes any building, structure, or vehicle (land, air, or water) that is adapted for the purposes of overnight accommodation, business activities, or storage.

The term "occupied" can be misleading. Here, it doesn't refer to individuals being present in the structure. Rather, occupied concerns the structure's underlying purpose—adapted for occupancy, business, or storage. So an empty house still qualifies as an occupied structure. The law also requires the structure to be big enough for a person to physically enter—so while a small safe deposit box cannot be an occupied structure, a walk-in shed could be. A houseboat, RV, or trailer set up as an office would also be considered an occupied structure.

(Iowa Code § 702.12 (2022).)

Entering or Remaining in the Building

A burglary can be accomplished in two ways: (1) by entering an occupied structure without permission or (2) by remaining in the structure after permission no longer exists.

Unlawful entry. An entry does not require a physical breaking. If the person does not have permission, pushing open an ajar apartment door counts as an entry, as does raising an unlocked window.

Remaining without permission. If the person initially had permission to enter, they can still commit burglary if they remain after that permission is taken away. For example, a person who legally enters a department store during business hours but hides when the store closes in order to steal merchandise commits burglary. Another example would be an invited guest who attends a party but remains in the house after the host asks everyone to leave, intending to assault the host or steal something.

Entering With Intent to Commit a Crime

The next element concerns the defendant's state of mind at the time of entry. To be convicted of burglary, the defendant must have decided to commit a felony, assault, or theft prior to, or at the time of, entry. A person who enters an apartment mistakenly (thinking it's their own) and decides to snatch an expensive watch sitting on the counter can be convicted of theft and criminal trespass but not burglary. If the crime involves remaining in a structure after permission expires, the timing of intent can occur at any time. A prosecutor usually proves the defendant's intent by looking to circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant carrying a crowbar, entering at night through an alley, or hiding in a restroom.

What Are the Penalties for Burglary and Attempted Burglary in Iowa?

The crimes of burglary and attempted burglary are broken into several categories, with penalties increasing as the severity of the crime increases.

First-Degree Burglary and Attempted Burglary

First-degree burglary occurs when a defendant enters an occupied structure with one or more people present and any of the following apply:

  • the defendant possessed (or came into possession of) an explosive device or dangerous weapon
  • the defendant intentionally or recklessly injures someone, or
  • the defendant commits certain sex crimes (not applicable to attempted burglary).

A person who commits first-degree burglary faces a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The penalty for attempted first-degree burglary is a class C felony, which carries a 10-year sentence. If a person used, possessed, or displayed a dangerous weapon in the commission of the offense (considered a "forcible felony"), the offender must serve a minimum of three years in prison.

(Iowa Code § 713.3 (2022).)

Second-Degree Burglary and Attempted Burglary

Second-degree burglary involves burglarizing an occupied structure either:

  • where one or more persons are present, or
  • where no one is present, but the defendant possesses an explosive device or dangerous weapon or harms someone.

A person who commits second-degree burglary faces a class C felony and up to 10 years in prison. Attempted second-degree burglary is a class D felony, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

(Iowa Code §§ 713.5, 713.6 (2022).)

Third-Degree Burglary and Attempted Burglary

Third-degree burglary is a catch-all category for circumstances that do not fall into first- or second-degree burglary. The penalty is a class D felony and carries a 5-year prison sentence. A person who commits attempted third-degree burglary faces aggravated misdemeanor charges and up to two years of jail time.

A person can also commit third-degree burglary by burglarizing an unoccupied motor vehicle, truck, or vessel. Under these circumstances, a first offense is an aggravated misdemeanor and any subsequent offense becomes a class D felony. For an attempt, a defendant faces a serious misdemeanor (up to one year in jail) for the first offense and an aggravated misdemeanor for subsequent offenses.

(Iowa Code §§ 713.6A, 713.6B (2022).)

Possession of Burglar's Tools

It's also a crime to possess any tool, device, key, or explosive, intending to use it in a burglary. Possession of burglar's tools is an aggravated misdemeanor.

(Iowa Code §§ 713.1 to 713.7, 902.7 (2020).)

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Trespass in Iowa?

Similar to burglary, the crime of trespass generally involves entering or remaining on another's property without permission. However, trespass doesn't necessarily require intent to commit a crime. And criminal trespass covers a broader range of property than the burglary statute, including any land, dwelling, building, conveyance, vehicle, or other temporary or permanent structure.

A person commits the crime of trespassing by doing any of the following:

  • entering on property without express permission and with intent to harass, commit a public offense, damage, remove or alter anything, or hunt, fish or trap
  • entering or remaining on property after being notified or asked to leave
  • entering or remaining on railway or public utility property without lawful authority or consent, or
  • while on another's property and without consent, intentionally viewing, photographing, or filming another person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy (such as into a bedroom window).

The penalties for criminal trespass range from a simple misdemeanor to a class D felony, with harsher penalties for acts relating to hate crimes or invasion of privacy, acts that cause bodily injury or more than $300 in property damage, and acts involving public utility property.

(Iowa Code §§ 716.7 to 716.8 (2022).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been charged with burglary, attempted burglary, or trespass, consult a local criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the charges and possible penalties and protect your rights.

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