North Carolina has many criminal laws dealing with burglary and related crimes. This article will review the laws and penalties regarding burglary, home invasion, breaking and entering, and criminal trespass.
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. Today, many states have done away with several of these requirements, including that the crime must occur at night and involve a dwelling. But that's not the case in North Carolina. North Carolina retains the traditional common law definition of burglary.
A person commits first-degree burglary by breaking and entering into an occupied dwelling or sleeping apartment at night with the intent to commit a felony. Burglary in the first degree is a Class D felony, punishable by 38 to 160 months (roughly 3 to 13 years) in prison.
The above crime is second-degree burglary if the occupants were not home. A person convicted of burglary in the second degree faces a Class G felony conviction and 8 to 31 months in prison.
To be convicted of burglary, the prosecutor must prove a "breaking and entering."
"Breaking" is using any amount of force to enter a building without permission. Even opening an unlocked door or window constitutes breaking and entering. 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.
"Entering" includes any act of crossing the threshold after a breaking. For instance, a person who opens a window and then reaches their hand inside to grab something or just to pull themselves inside has "entered" the building. A person can also "enter" with something other than a body part, such as throwing a bag through the window.
Breaking or entering into any other buildings with the intent to commit a crime or to harm someone is called "felonious breaking and entering" in North Carolina. Unlike burglary, this offense can occur at any time, day or night. Also, burglary involves breaking and entering, whereas this crime requires one or the other. The penalties for breaking-or-entering crimes depend on the type of building involved.
It's a Class H felony to break or enter a building commits with the intent to:
A person convicted of a Class H felony faces 4 to 25 months' imprisonment.
Anyone who unlawfully breaks or enters into a place of worship with the intent to commit a felony or larceny is guilty of a Class G felony, punishable by 8 to 31 months' imprisonment. Places of religious worship can include churches, chapels, synagogues, temples, longhouses, mosques, or any other building regularly used for and clearly identified as a place of worship.
The penalties for breaking or entering increase to a Class E felony if the person breaks or enters a pharmacy intending to steal drugs. Class E felonies carry up to 63 months (5 years+) in prison.
For burglary and felonious breaking and entering, the defendant must enter the building with the intent to commit a felony or theft. It doesn't matter if the defendant completed the crime; rather, it's the intent that counts.
To prove intent, a prosecutor doesn't need to establish exactly what was going through the defendant's head (although a defendant who blurts out that they only intended to steal a phone would make the prosecution's job much easier). Typically, prosecutors point to the circumstances of the crime to show intent, such as a defendant carrying a weapon into the building may establish intent to commit a robbery or assault. Or a defendant who enters a home using burglary tools and carrying wire cutters to disconnect electronics may establish intent to steal.
If a person breaks or enters a building without any intent to commit a crime or harm someone, the crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by 1 to 120 days in jail. Unlawfully entering a warehouse to take a nap would fall under this crime.
Trespassing is a less serious crime than burglary and breaking or entering. A person commits trespass by entering or remaining on property without authorization. North Carolina divides trespassing offenses into first and second degrees.
A person commits first-degree trespass by unlawfully entering or remaining:
A conviction for first-degree trespass carries Class 2 misdemeanor penalties, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine.
More severe penalties (some of which are felonies) apply when a defendant trespasses on property that is used for public infrastructure, water treatment, or agricultural activities. A trespasser will also face harsher penalties if they breach a secure perimeter, intend to disrupt public services, place others at risk of harm, or violate a domestic restraining order. Penalties range from Class A1 misdemeanors (up to 150 days in jail) to Class G felonies.
A trespasser who ignores "No Trespassing" or similar signs indicating that entry is not allowed is guilty of second-degree trespass, a Class 3 misdemeanor. It's also second-degree trespass to enter or remain on another's property after being told to leave or not return. Class 3 misdemeanors carry up to a 20-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
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.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-51, 14-52, 14-54, 14-54.1, 14-54.2, 14-134.3, 14-159.12, 14-159.13 (2022).)