South Carolina protects people and their property from intruders with the state's burglary and criminal trespass laws.
In South Carolina, a person commits burglary by the unauthorized entry into a dwelling or building with the intent to commit a crime therein. Penalties vary according to the type of building that the defendant entered and other circumstances, as described below.
The two parts of the definition of burglary—entering and criminal intent—are known as the “elements” of the crime, and 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 show 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. Let’s break down these elements and definitions.
The burglary laws protect dwellings and buildings. A dwelling includes any house, outhouse, apartment, or building used as a habitation and any of those same structures that are within two hundred yards of it. A building means any structure, vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft where someone lives or people assemble for select purposes, such as business, government, and education.
The first element of the crime of burglary requires that the offender actually entered into a structure without permission to do so. Entry without consent means the defendant either didn’t have permission from the person in lawful possession or used deception or misrepresentation to gain entry.
The second element of burglary concerns the defendant’s state of mind at the time of entering the building. To be convicted of burglary, the defendant must have decided to commit any crime (misdemeanor or felony) and then entered the building for that purpose. The offender’s completion of the crime once inside is not a required element. Proof of entry and criminal intent are sufficient for a conviction.
(S.C. Code §§ 16-11-10, -310, -311 (2020).)
South Carolina divides burglary into three categories that carry increasing penalties according to the severity of the crime.
Burglary in the first degree involves an unlawful entry into a dwelling with intent to commit a crime, and either during or while fleeing the crime, the defendant:
Other factors that result in first-degree burglary charges include (1) committing the crime at night or (2) having a record of two or more previous burglary convictions.
A person who commits burglary in the first degree faces 15 years to life in prison.
Second-degree burglary occurs when the defendant unlawfully enters a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime therein, and none of the factors in first-degree burglary apply.
A person also commits second-degree burglary by unlawfully entering a nonresidential building (as defined above) with intent to commit a crime and, during or while fleeing the crime, the defendant:
Entering a nonresidential building at night also falls under second-degree burglary, as does a nonresidential burglary when the defendant has two or more prior burglary convictions.
An offender guilty of second-degree burglary faces 10 to 15 years in prison. For the violent type of burglary in the second degree, the offender must serve at least one-third of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Burglary in the third degree occurs when the defendant unlawfully enters a building with the intent to commit a crime and under circumstances not included in second-degree burglary.
Penalties for this level of burglary include up to five years in prison for a first conviction and 10 years for a second conviction.
A person who makes or possesses items commonly adapted, designed, or used to commit burglary, with the intent of using the item for that purpose, is guilty of a felony. Such an offender faces up to five years in prison and a fine in the court’s discretion.
(S.C. Code §§ 16-11-20, -311, -312, -313 (2020).)
Similar to burglary, a person commits trespass by knowingly entering onto private property without the authority to do so. The difference between the two crimes is that trespass does not require that the entry be made with the intent to commit a crime inside. Instead, merely entering without consent qualifies as trespass.
Trespass on premises; refusal to leave. A person who, without good cause or good excuse, enters or refuses to leave someone else’s dwelling, place of business, or premises having been warned not to enter or asked to leave can receive up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine.
Trespass private land; after notice. Trespassing onto private land after notice from the owner or a tenant prohibiting such entry, including land used for pasturing livestock, constitutes a misdemeanor. Notice can include posting signs in conspicuous places. Such an offender faces up to a $100 fine and 30 days in jail with hard labor on the public works of the county.
Trespass private land; without permission. Trespass for the purpose of gathering anything growing on the land (wild or cultivated, such as fruit or wildflowers) or for hunting without permission is a misdemeanor. Penalties vary depending on how many times the defendant committed such an act. A first-time offense brings a fine of up to $200 and 30 days in jail with hard labor on the public works of the county. A third or subsequent offense can land the offender in jail for six months and require a $1,000 fine.
(S.C. Code §§ 16-11-600, -610, -620 (2020).)
If you have been charged with burglary, trespass, or a related crime, or if you have questions about state laws, consult a qualified local criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can review the unique facts of your situation and advise you on how the law will apply to your case.