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. For general information on burglary, trespass, and related crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.
Traditionally, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Today, states have done away with these traditional requirements. In Missouri, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering or remaining in any building or inhabitable structure (a ship, trailer, railroad sleeping car, or airplane, or any vehicle or structure where a person lives or sleeps or where people gather) without permission, with the intent to commit a crime inside.
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:
(Mo. Ann. Stat. § § 569.160, 569.170.)
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. Other times, 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 may 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. Of course, if the intended crime occurs or is attempted, then the defendant can also be convicted of that crime or criminal attempt.
Trespass is going onto another person’s property without permission and it is a less serious crime than burglary. Under Missouri law, a person commits trespass (an infraction) by entering property without permission from the owner. Trespass is a strict liability offense, which means that defendants do not have to be aware that they are on someone else’s property without permission. For example, a person who unknowingly wandered off of a public trail and onto someone’s undeveloped land could be cited for trespass.
Trespass is punished more severely, as trespass in the first degree, if the defendant enters property or goes into a building or structure knowing that he or she does not have the owner’s permission to be there. In order for a person to be convicted of first degree trespass of land (as opposed to a building):
It is also a crime in Missouri to enter or operate a school bus without permission. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § § 569.140, 569.145, 569.150, 569.155.)
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. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § 569.180.) 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. For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglary Tools.
Burglary is a class C felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, or one year in jail, and a fine up to $5,000. Burglary in the first degree is a class B felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison.
Trespass in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $500. Otherwise, trespass is an infraction (infractions are usually punishable only by fines).
Trespass of a school bus is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both. Possession of burglar’s tools is a class D felony, punishable by one year in jail or up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. For more information on sentencing, see Missouri Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Missouri Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
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.