Like all states, Missouri has laws against going onto other people’s property without permission (trespass) or going into a building intending to commit a crime inside (burglary). Armed or violent burglaries and burglaries of buildings that are occupied can be punished by significant prison sentences in Missouri.
Traditionally, the law defined burglary as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Today, states have done away with many of these traditional requirements.
In Missouri, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering or remaining in any building or inhabitable structure without permission and with the intent to commit a crime inside.
The law protects a broad range of structures. A building can mean any partially enclosed structure designed for occupancy (such as an apartment, store, factory, or shelter for people, animals, or property). Inhabitable structures include vehicles, vessels, or structures where someone lives or carries out business, where people assemble for certain purposes (such as business or education), or that someone uses for overnight accommodations.
A person "enters or remains unlawfully" in a structure if they are not licensed or privileged to be there. An entry doesn’t require physically breaking or any type of forced entry. The mere act of opening an unlocked door and going into a building can trigger an unlawful entry.
Unless ordered not to enter or remain in a place, a person may enter or stay on those premises which are open to the public. However, if only a portion of the premises is open to the public, the individual may not enter areas that are closed to the public. For example, if a person enters a retail store during open business hours, that individual does not have permission to enter the manager’s office in the back of the store. Additionally, if a person enters that same store, it would be unlawful for the person to remain in the store once the store closes.
In a burglary case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant entered the building with the intent to commit a crime inside. How can a prosecutor prove what the defendant was thinking? Sometimes, a defendant will admit that he or she went into the building to commit a crime. Or the illicit intent can be inferred from the fact that a crime (like assault or theft) actually took place.
Other times, the evidence is more circumstantial. For example, the mere fact that a defendant entered into a building containing valuable items, such as a retail store, without permission might be enough to show intent to steal. The crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters into the building or structure with the illicit intent, even if the intended crime never occurs. If the intended crime occurs or is attempted, the defendant can also be convicted of that crime or criminal attempt.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 556.061, 569.160, 569.170 (2020).)
Only two classifications of burglary exist in Missouri: first-degree and second-degree burglary.
First-degree burglary. Missouri is one of the few states that does not punish residential or home invasion burglary more severely than burglaries of other buildings. However, burglaries are punished more severely, as first-degree burglary, if:
Second-degree burglary. Second-degree burglary encompasses all other acts of burglary.
Penalties. Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony. The punishment for such an offense can include imprisonment for five to 15 years. Burglary in the second degree is a class D felony, punishable by a penalty of up to seven years in prison. Both degrees carry a potential fine of up to $10,000 or double the amount of the defendant’s financial gain from the crime.
Enhanced penalty. A defendant convicted of burglary will receive a sentence for the next-higher felony class if they have two or more previous felony convictions (for crimes committed at different times) or they are considered a “dangerous offender” (which includes those who committed certain violent crimes).
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 569.160, 569.170, 558.002, 558.011, 558.016 (2020).)
Almost every state, including Missouri, makes it a crime to possess any tool or instrument that is designed, adapted, or commonly used to force entry into a building with the intent to illegally enter a building, inhabitable structure, or room. For example, a person who is found with a set of lock picks (and who is not a locksmith) could be convicted of possession of burglary tools. A flashlight and a pair of gloves can qualify as burglar’s tools in certain instances.
A person convicted of possession of burglar’s tools commits a class E felony and faces up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 569.180, 558.002, and 558.011 (2020).)
Under Missouri law, a person commits trespass by entering property without permission from the owner. Trespass differs from burglary in a couple of different ways. First, trespass does not require an intent to commit a crime on the property. Second, trespass applies to a broader range of property. Whereas burglary usually involves some type of structure or building, trespass can include simply entering onto a plot of land.
Second-degree trespass. A trespasser can be convicted of an infraction (fine-only offense) even if they are not aware that they are on someone else’s real property without permission. (Such crimes are referred to as strict liability offenses.) An infraction results in a fine only, up to $400, but no jail time.
First-degree trespass. An offender convicted of first-degree trespass is guilty of a class B misdemeanor and faces up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A person commits this degree of trespass by entering real property or going into a building or inhabitable structure knowing they do not have the owner’s permission to be there. For example, if the property was fenced, enclosed, or otherwise marked, the defendant would know they did not have permission to enter.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 569.140 and following (2020).)
If you are charged with burglary, trespass, or any other crime, you should talk to a Missouri criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can investigate the case against you and determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges or a good plea bargain. Only someone familiar with state law and the local prosecutors and judges can tell you what your chances are for a favorable outcome in court. An attorney can help you protect your rights and present the strongest possible defense.