In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to enter onto private property without permission. As discussed below, burglary, home invasion, and trespass laws strive to protect people and their property from these intrusions.
In Pennsylvania, burglary is defined as unlawfully entering a building, with the intent of committing a crime therein. These two parts of the definition are known as the “elements” of the crime of burglary. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3502.)
To be convicted of burglary, both elements of the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or admitted to by the defendant). That is, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant actually entered the building, and entered with the intent to commit a crime inside. Without sufficient proof of each element, the prosecutor may secure a conviction for some other crime (such as trespass or attempted burglary), but not burglary.
The first element of the crime of burglary—entering—requires that you actually entered into a structure without permission to do so. Unlike some states, Pennsylvania law does not include circumstances where the defendant entered a building legally, but stayed after the time when he was supposed to leave (such as legally entering a department store during business hours, but hiding when the store closes in order to steal something from the building).
The second element of burglary concerns the defendant’s state of mind at the time he or she entered the building. To be convicted of burglary, the defendant must have decided to commit a crime, and then entered the building for that purpose.
Notice that the intended crime does not have to be successful or completed; entering with a criminal intent satisfies the two elements of burglary, and may lead to a conviction.
Burglary is a felony, with the degree of felony varying according to the underlying circumstances of the crime. For example, if any person (other than an accomplice) was present in the building at the time of the crime, burglary is a felony of the first degree. However, it is a felony of the second degree when the building is not a dwelling and no one was present during the crime. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3502.)
In Pennsylvania, home invasion is not a separate crime from burglary, but rather a specific name for a burglary that occurs in a dwelling. Home invasion has the same entry and intent-to-commit-a-crime elements, and is punished more severely, as a felony of the first degree, if someone was home at the time of the invasion. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3502.)
It is also illegal to possess burglar’s tools with the intent to use them (or knowingly allow them to be used) in a burglary. Examples of burglar’s tools include false keys, crowbars, or explosives used to gain entry into a room or object (such as a safe). For more about burglar's tools, see Burglary Tools.
Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to three years in prison, or both. (18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 4904.)
Trespass requires that a defendant knowingly entered any private property (not just a building or structure, as with burglary), without the authority to do so. This may be in defiance of an order against such entry, a clearly posted sign, a locked gate (or similar indication of private property), or by lying or using other means of subterfuge to gain entry.
Pennsylvania has several categories of trespass, depending on the defendant’s intent and the type of property involved. These include:
Penalties vary and may include a fine, jail (or prison) time, or both.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3503.)
If you have been charged with burglary, trespass, or a related crime, or if you have questions about Pennsylvania laws on this subject, consult a qualified local criminal defense attorney. Only an attorney can review the unique facts of your situation and advise you on how the law will apply to your case.