Each state has its own laws defining burglary and criminal trespass. In Mississippi, a person who commits burglary will likely face felony penalties, which can mean prison time. Burglary involves breaking and entering a structure or building with the intent to commit a crime. Criminal trespass, on the other hand, requires an unlawful entry onto another's property. Less serious than burglary, the misdemeanor offense of trespassing doesn't involve a breaking or intent to commit a separate crime. This article will review these and related crimes in more detail.
Mississippi defines burglary as (1) breaking and entering into any structure (2) with the intent to commit a crime. 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 reasonable doubt (or admitted to by the defendant). Burglary of a "dwelling," in particular, carries some of the harshest penalties in Mississippi. Let's break down these elements and learn how the law defines dwelling.
A "breaking and entering" involves entry into a structure without permission. The term "breaking" requires only the slightest force, such as pushing open an unlocked door or reaching inside a partially open window. The law also provides that gaining an invitation into a structure through deceit or fraud (such as by claiming to be a police officer or repair person) meets the definition of breaking.
A legal entry into a building can become illegal if the person enters a prohibited area or hides after permission to be in the building expires. For example, a person's lawful entry into a store can turn unlawful if the person sneaks into the storeroom after hours or when the clerk isn't watching.
The second element of burglary 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 crime (misdemeanor or felony) and then entered the building for that purpose. In the storeroom example, if the person's intent upon entry was to steal merchandise, this state of mind satisfies the intent element. With both elements proven (entry and intent), the prosecution can secure a conviction for burglary. Note that the prosecutor doesn't need to prove that the defendant attempted or completed the intended crime—the intent is what counts.
Mississippi punishes burglary of a dwelling (or residence) more harshly than burglary of non-residential structures. Whether a house qualifies as a dwelling under the law depends on its inhabitant's intent. If the inhabitant intends to maintain a permanent or intermittent residence in the home, the law considers it a dwelling.
Under this definition, a newly built home doesn't become a dwelling until its inhabitants move in and intend to stay. The home won't lose its status as a dwelling if the inhabitants temporarily leave and intend to return (such as by using it as a vacation home). While, generally, a hotel room would not count as a dwelling, if the occupant intends to reside there, the room becomes a dwelling. (Gillum v. State, 468 So.2d 856 (Miss. 1985).)
Mississippi classifies burglary crimes primarily by the type of structure entered and the circumstances involved.
A person commits burglary of a dwelling—also called home invasion—by breaking and entering into another's dwelling (or an inner door within the dwelling) with the intent to commit a crime.
Home invasion burglaries carry the potential for serious harm to the occupants and incur harsh penalties. Under Mississippi's law, the potential for harm is enough to justify the consequences, as the same penalties apply regardless of whether or not the home was occupied or the offender was armed.
Home invasion carries a minimum of 3 years in prison and up to 25. If the home invasion involves circumstances likely to terrorize an occupant present during the break-in, the minimum punishment increases to a 10-year prison sentence.
Under Mississippi law, someone who's lawfully in another's dwelling can also face burglary charges under the following circumstances:
Both of these burglary offenses carry up to 10 years in prison.
Burglary committed in structures other than a dwelling (such as an office, booth, tent, or warehouse) and in certain conveyances (such as vehicles, boats, railroad cars, and trucks) incur up to 7 years in prison. Here, the person must break and enter with the intent of stealing (larceny) or committing a felony. Burglarizing places of worship carries a possible 14-year sentence.
A person who breaks and enters into any building intending to commit a crime and opens or attempts to open a vault or safe with explosives faces the stiffest of Mississippi's burglary penalties. The crime carries a minimum of 5 years' prison time and up to 40 years.
A person can fail jail time or up to five years in prison for possessing burglar tools with the intent to use them to carry out a crime. Burglar tools include instruments or tools designed to aid in committing a burglary, theft, or robbery, such as lockpicks, crowbars, or master keys.
(Miss. Code §§ 97-17-23, 97-17-25, 97-17-29, 97-17-33, 97-17-35, 97-17-37 (2023).)
Mississippi also prohibits unlawful entry or trespass onto another's land, property, or premises without permission or after being told entry is prohibited. Unlike burglary, these crimes don't require an intent to commit a crime. They also protect a wider range of property than burglary.
A person who enters another's land without permission commits a misdemeanor. For a first offense, the offender faces a $250 fine. Any subsequent offenses (occurring within five years) incur 10 to 30 days' jail time and a $500 fine.
Trespass refers to knowingly entering private property without consent after being notified that entry is prohibited. An owner can provide notice verbally or by publication or signage. Penalties vary depending on the type of property entered and the trespasser's intent. For instance, a person who willfully trespasses on another's real or personal property faces six months in jail. The same penalty applies to a person who enters or remains on the premises or land of another after being informed not to. Trespassing on another's enclosed land carries a fine-only penalty.
(Miss. Code §§ 97-17-85, 97-17-93, 97-17-97 (2023).)
If you've been charged with burglary or a related offense, contact a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you evaluate your options, protect your rights, and defend your case. Even seemingly minor offenses, like trespassing, can result in a criminal record that impacts your future ability to get a job, find housing, or apply for a loan. Working with an experienced attorney can help you understand and improve the outcome of your case.