When you imagine burglary or home invasion, you may think of images from the movies: a black-garbed “cat burglar” sneaking up drainpipes and into an open window; or a masked gunman kicking your door in. But state laws include more than what we see on the big screen.
Louisiana protects people and their property from uninvited intruders with burglary, home invasion, unauthorized entry, and related laws.
In Louisiana, burglary is defined as entering or remaining in an occupied structure without the legal right to do so, with the intent of committing a felony or theft inside.
The two parts of the definition are known as the “elements” of the crime of burglary. To be convicted of burglary, both elements of the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or admitted to by the defendant). That is, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant actually entered the building, and entered with the intent to commit a felony or theft. Without sufficient proof of each element, the prosecutor may secure a conviction for some other crime (such as trespass or attempted burglary), but not burglary.
The first element of the crime of burglary—entering—may be accomplished in two ways: by entering or breaking into property that you don’t have permission to enter in the first place, or by remaining on property after the time you are permitted to be there has expired.
An example of the second scenario includes attending a dinner party but hiding in the house when the other guests leave in order to commit a crime in the house or to steal from it.
The second element of burglary concerns the defendant’s state of mind at the time he or she entered the building. To be guilty of burglary, the defendant must have decided to commit a felony or theft, and then entered the building (or stayed beyond the permitted time) for that purpose.
In Louisiana, burglary is broken into two categories, with fines and prison terms increasing according to the severity of the crime.
Simple burglary includes unauthorized entry into a dwelling, vehicle, watercraft, or other structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein.
Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to 12 years in prison, or both. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.)
Aggravated burglary includes unauthorized entry into an inhabited building with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein, while either armed with a dangerous weapon or having committed a battery on another person during the crime.
Penalties include at least one year (and up to 30 years) in prison. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 60.)
Home invasion is the unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling with the intent to use force or violence against the resident, or to vandalize or damage property in the dwelling (or the dwelling itself). As with burglary, home invasion has two elements (entry and intent), but they are more specific.
The first element of home invasion—entering an inhabited dwelling —may be accomplished in the same ways as burglary, described above, but the entry must be into a building used for lodging (such as an apartment, house, or even a tent).
And perhaps somewhat confusingly, the term “inhabited dwelling” means only that the structure is used for a dwelling, not that a resident was necessarily physically present at the time of the offense (although, penalties increase if someone was present, as described below). In other words, a house is still an inhabited dwelling if no one is at home.
The second element of home invasion concerns the defendant’s state of mind at the time he or she entered the inhabited dwelling. To be convicted of home invasion, the defendant must have entered the building with the purpose of using force or violence against a resident, or vandalizing or damaging property or the dwelling itself.
Penalties for home invasion usually include a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 25 years in prison. However, if the defendant carried a dangerous weapon during the offense, penalties increase to a fine of up to $7,000 and up to 30 years in prison. And when one of more residents present during the home invasion was a child younger than 12, or an adult age 65 or older, or anyone with certain developmental disabilities, penalties include a fine of up to $10,000 and at least ten (and up to 25) years in prison. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.8.)
Similar to burglary or home invasion, unauthorized entry is defined as entering an inhabited dwelling without authorization to do so. The difference is that unauthorized entry does not require an intent to commit another crime, as explained above (the second element of burglary and home invasion). Instead, merely entering (or remaining unlawfully) in a dwelling qualifies as unauthorized entry.
Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six years in prison, or both. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.3 & 62.4.)
An exception exists for otherwise unauthorized entry that occurs within 72 hours of an officially-declared disaster or emergency, when the entering person did so for survival purposes, while awaiting evacuation or rescue. Unauthorized entry for non-survival purposes during an emergency incurs a fine of up to $1,500, up to one year in jail, or both. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.7.)
Trespass includes knowingly entering onto private property without the authority to do so, or remaining after your authority to be there has ended. Like unauthorized entry into a dwelling, there is no second element; the entry itself is the crime. This crime is broader than those described above in that it includes unauthorized entry onto any private property (including land), not only into structures.
Exemptions exist for certain law enforcement officers, firefighters, and land surveyors engaging in their official duties. And children younger than ten years old cannot be arrested or detained for trespass.
Penalties for a first offense include a fine of at least $100 (and up to $500), up to 30 days in jail, or both. Fines and jail time increase for second and subsequent offenses. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.7.)
Looting is an unauthorized entry into a dwelling or place of business while normal security is not in effect because of a disaster or emergency situation; and damaging, stealing, or removing property while you are there.
Because it is a more serious crime than the similar crimes of unauthorized entry or trespass, penalties for looting include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison. (14 La. Stat. Ann. § 62.5.)
If you have been charged with burglary, criminal trespass, or a related crime, or if you have questions about state laws, consult a qualified local criminal defense attorney. Only an attorney can review the unique facts of your situation, and advise you on how the law will apply to your case.