North Carolina has many, many criminal laws dealing with burglary and related crimes. Burglary, or forcibly entering a house with the intent of committing a crime, is also called home invasion. People in North Carolina who go onto other people's property without permission can also be charged with breaking and entering (forcing entry into other buildings or vehicles) or trespassing (a less serious offense). For general information on these crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.
Traditionally, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a dwelling at night with the intent to commit a felony (a crime punishable by time in prison) or theft inside. Today, many states have done away with these requirements, but North Carolina retains the traditional definition of burglary.
“Breaking and entering” is using any amount of force to enter a building without permission. Even opening an unlocked door or window constitutes breaking and entering. A dwelling is a place where a person lives or sleeps. If the dwelling is occupied, burglary is punished more severely, as first degree burglary. If the dwelling is not occupied, then the crime is second degree burglary. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-51.) For example, a teenager who pushes open an ajar window and crawls into an occupied house in the middle of the night in order to steal a gaming system has committed first degree burglary.
Breaking and entering into any other buildings with the intent to commit a felony or theft or injure or terrorize an inhabitant of the building is called “felonious breaking and entering” in North Carolina. If the defendant merely breaks and enters into a building without permission, it is a much less serious crime. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-54, 14-54.1.) For example, a defendant who enters into a warehouse through an unlocked door without permission in order to take a nap inside has committed the crime of breaking and entering. If the defendant enters in order to steal from the warehouse, then the defendant has committed felonious breaking and entering. Breaking and entering is punished more severely if the building is a place of worship, such as a church, mosque, or synagogue.
It is also a crime in North Carolina to, with the intent to commit a felony or theft, break and enter into:
(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-56, 14-57.)
For burglary and felonious breaking and entering, the defendant must enter with the intent to commit a felony or theft. However, the prosecutor is not required to establish exactly what was going through the defendant’s head. Indeed, the jury can often infer from the fact that a defendant has broken into and entered a building or vehicle without permission that defendant intended to commit a crime. The crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters into the building or vehicle with the illicit intent, even if the intended felony or theft never occurs.
Most of the time, trespass is a less serious crime than burglary or breaking and entering. A person commits trespass (called second degree trespass in North Carolina) by entering or remaining on property on which “No Trespassing” signs are posted, or after having been told not to enter by the owner or occupant. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-159.13.) First degree trespass, a more serious crime, is committed by entering without permission:
Utility companies. First degree trespass is punished more severely if the property is a power station, natural gas facility, public water treatment or storage facility, and the defendant actually entered a building or climbed a fence. Trespassing on property belonging to a utility company is punished even more severely if the defendant intended to disrupt the operation of the facility, or if the trespass placed anyone at risk of injury. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-159.12.)
Domestic trespass. Under North Carolina’s laws, it is also a crime for a person to enter or refuse to leave the home of a current or former spouse or domestic partner if the parties are living apart and the spouse has asked the defendant to leave or not to enter. The crime is punished more severely if the defendant is armed or if the victim is at a domestic violence shelter. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-134.3.)
In many states, including North Carolina, it is a crime to possess tools used to force entry into buildings or vehicles. For example, in North Carolina, it is a crime to possess, without a good reason, any lock pick, key, or other tool used for breaking into buildings. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-55.) It is also a crime to possess a vehicle master key, or tools for picking car locks or hotwiring with the intent to commit a crime. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-56.4.) For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglary Tools.
Burglary in the first degree and burglary with explosives are Class D felonies, punishable by 38 to 160 months in prison, and burglary in the second degree is a Class G felony, punishable by 8 to 31 months in prison. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-52.) Burglary of a vehicle is a Class I felony, punishable by three to 12 months in prison.
Breaking and entering a place of worship is also Class G felony. Breaking and entering a building to commit a crime or cause injury or terror is a Class H felony, punishable by four to 25 months’ imprisonment. Otherwise, breaking and entering is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by one to 120 days in jail and a fine.
In North Carolina, a person who has been convicted of any felony burglary or breaking and entering offense and is convicted a second time of felony burglary or breaking and entering must be sentenced to at least 15 to 36 months in prison. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-7.26, 14-7.31.)
Second degree trespass is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 20 days in jail and a fine up to $200. Depending on the circumstances, first degree trespass may be a Class 2 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000), a Class A1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a fine), or a Class H felony. Domestic trespass is a Class 1 misdemeanor, unless the defendant is armed or the victim is at a domestic violence shelter, in which case the crime is a Class G felony. Possession of burglary tools is a Class I felony. Possession of tools for breaking into vehicles is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but second or subsequent violations are Class I felonies. For more information on sentencing in North Carolina, see North Carolina Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and North Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
If you are charged with a crime in North Carolina, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law to you, answer your questions, and help you navigate the criminal justice system.