Louisiana punishes unlawful entry onto another’s property as one of four crimes: criminal trespass, unauthorized entry, burglary, and home invasion. Each crime builds upon the next in terms of elements (parts of a crime) and penalties.
Criminal trespass occurs when someone enters a structure, watercraft, or property without authorization.
Unauthorized entry is a criminal trespass that involves an intentional entry.
Home invasion occurs when unauthorized entry involves an occupied dwelling or structure used as a home and the defendant intends to commit battery (use of force or violence) or property damage.
Louisiana’s burglary-related crimes contain similar terms and criminal elements, but not all are defined in statute. The definitions below are gleaned from case law, treatises, and statutory language.
Dwelling or home. Louisiana's statutory language suggests that dwelling and home are one-in-the-same and mean a house, apartment, or other structure used in whole or in part as a residence. Likely, this would include a houseboat or RV.
Movable. Case law suggests the term “movable” refers to a movable vehicle or structure, such as a houseboat, trailer, or car.
Inhabited vs. occupied. Case law provides a definition of “inhabited.” Inhabited refers to a structure that a person uses as a residence. Inhabited does not, however, mean occupied.
Entry. Louisiana courts have found the criminal element of “entry” occurs when any part of a defendant’s body crosses the threshold of the structure or property. For instance, a hand reaching into a window constitutes an entry.
Unauthorized entry. Unauthorized entry does not need to involve force. It can involve any act of entry committed without permission or by fraud. For instance, opening an unlocked window or pushing open a door left ajar may constitute an unauthorized entry. A defendant who impersonates a police officer or repair person to gain entry also commits an unauthorized entry, even if the occupant let the person in.
(State v. Conn, 420 So.2d 1123 (La. 1982); State v. Falls, 508 So.2d 1021 (La. Ct. App. 1987); 17 La. Civ. L. Treatise, Crim. Jury Instr. §§ 10:91 to 10:100 (2019).)
Louisiana defines burglary as an unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling or occupied structure with intent to commit a felony or theft. The law provides two offense levels for burglary: simple and aggravated.
Simple burglary occurs when a person enters an inhabited dwelling, house, apartment, or other structure used as a residence, without authorization and with intent to steal or commit a felony inside. For instance, a person who enters a house, knowing the family is on vacation, and steals their valuable electronics has committed simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling. A person convicted under this section faces one to 12 years in prison. (La. Rev. Stat. § 62.2 (2020).)
Aggravated burglary involves unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling or occupied structure, watercraft, or movable, with intent to steal or commit a felony, and either the offender:
A person convicted of aggravated burglary faces one to 30 years in prison. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:60 (2020).)
Home invasion involves an unauthorized entry into an occupied dwelling or other structure used as a home, with intent to use force or violence on a person or to commit property damage. The occupant must be present for the crime to constitute a home invasion. A person convicted of home invasion faces one to 30 years in prison. (La. Rev. Stat. § 62.8 (2020).)
How Does a Prosecutor Prove Intent to Commit a Crime?
To convict someone on burglary or home invasion charges, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered with intent to commit a crime. How does the prosecutor prove what's going on inside the defendant's head? Often, the circumstances surrounding the crime point to intent, such as the defendant possessing a crowbar or gun or trying to leave with a pocket full of jewelry. Learn more about proving intent in this article.
An unauthorized entry is a step down from burglary. A person intentionally enters a dwelling or structure without permission or authorization but does not intend to commit a crime. The penalties for unauthorized entry depend on the type of structure involved.
Unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling (occupied or not) carries a penalty of up to six years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Unauthorized entry of a place of business that is completely enclosed by a fence or other barrier at least six feet in height also carries a penalty of six years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure (such as power generating plant, water treatment plant, or natural gas storage facility) is a five-year felony and subject to a $1,000 fine. The statute provides that an unlawful entry can occur by: use of fraudulent documents to gain entrance; intentional entry onto a fenced, enclosed, or restricted area; or remaining on or in the property after being told to leave.
The crime of unauthorized entry becomes looting if committed during a natural disaster (hurricane, flood, fire) or emergency (riot or mob) and the person unlawfully takes property of another. Looting can involve entry into a dwelling, business, or other movable or immovable structure or vehicle.
The crime of looting carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. If committed during a declared state of emergency, the person faces a minimum sentence of three years and a minimum fine of $5,000 and is not eligible for probation or parole.
(La. Rev. Stat. §§ 14:61, :62.3, :62.4, :62.5 (2020).)
Criminal trespass occurs when a person enters a structure, watercraft, or movable or immovable property owned by another without permission. Signs and other markers (including purple paint marks of a certain size and placement) constitute notice that entrance is not permitted.
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor. A first offense can be punished by up to 30 days in jail and a $100 to $500 fine. For a second offense, a person faces up to 90 days in jail and a $300 to $750 fine. All subsequent offenses are punishable by two to six months in jail and a fine of $500 to $1,000. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:63 (2020).)
If you're facing charges for burglary, home invasion, unauthorized entry, or criminal trespass, seek out the expertise of a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you navigate the criminal justice system and protect your rights. Be sure to ask your attorney about future consequences of having a criminal record.