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.
Each state has its own laws defining burglary and trespass. And penalties vary according to the circumstances of the crime, as described below.
In Mississippi, burglary is defined as breaking and entering into any structure with the intent to commit a crime therein. These 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 doubt (or admitted to by the defendant). That is, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant actually entered a structure, and entered with the intent to commit a crime in that structure. 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—requires that you actually entered into a structure without permission to do so. As described below, penalties vary according to the type of structure that you enter.
Illegal entry also includes being lawfully present in a structure, but breaking or entering through an inner door and into a room that you have no permission to enter. This would include, for example, lawfully being in a shop but sneaking into the storeroom when the clerk is not watching.
The second element of burglary concerns the defendant’s state of mind at the time he or she entered the building. To be convicted of burglary, the defendant must have first decided to commit a crime, and then entered the building for that purpose.
In the example above about entering a storeroom without permission, if your intent upon entry was to commit a crime, such as stealing stock from the room, you have satisfied the intent element, and have burglarized the shop owner's private portion of the store.
Notice that the intended crime does not have to be successful or completed; entering with a criminal intent satisfies the two elements of burglary, and may lead to a conviction.
Home invasion is the same crime as burglary, except that the burglary was committed in a dwelling (a place used for lodging, like a house or apartment). So, home invasion requires the same entry and criminal intent elements, described above.
Because the burglary of a dwelling occurs in such a personal and private location and ostensibly causes more trauma for the dwelling’s residents, this kind of burglary incurs more severe penalties, as described below.
Home invasion is punishable by at least three (and up to 25) years in prison. And increased penalties apply if a person (such as a resident of a dwelling) was present during the offense. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-23.)
Burglary by breaking an inner door of a dwelling incurs up to ten years in prison. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-29.)
Burglary committed in a building other than a dwelling (such as an office, boat, or motor vehicle) incurs up to seven years in prison. And burglarizing religious buildings or places of worship incurs up to 14 years in prison. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-33.)
It is illegal to knowingly possess burglar’s tools with the intent to use them in a burglary. These include instruments for prying or burning through doors and vaults, or otherwise gaining entry or stealing from the property once inside. Penalties include up to one year in jail, or up to five years in prison (at the judge’s discretion). (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-35.) For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglary Tools.
Trespass includes knowingly entering onto private property without the permission to do so. The difference between trespass and burglary is that trespass does not have the second element of burglary (the intent to commit a crime inside). Instead, merely entering qualifies as trespass. Notably, however, trespass occurs on someone else’s “property,” which can include land, and is thus broader than burglary, which occurs only upon entry into a structure or building.
Penalties include up to $250 for a first offense, and up to $500 and at least 10 (and up to 30) days in jail for a second or subsequent offense that occurs within five years of the preceding offense. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-93.)
If you have questions about state laws on burglary, attempted burglary, or trespass, or have been charged with any of these (or related) crimes, it is important to consult a local criminal defense attorney. Each person’s circumstances are unique, and only a qualified local attorney can give you advice about how the law applies to your case.