Burglary, Home Invasions, and Criminal Trespass in Tennessee

Burglary crimes carry serious consequences in Tennessee, especially when the target is a home.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated November 30, 2023

Tennessee, like many states, imposes serious penalties for burglary offenses. Read on to learn how Tennessee defines, classifies, and punishes burglary and related crimes.

Burglary and Home Invasion Laws in Tennessee

In Tennessee, a person commits burglary by unlawfully entering or remaining in any structure with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault therein. A person can burglarize a building, structure, or habitation. Home invasion is a specific kind of burglary that occurs within a dwelling and is discussed more below.

Elements of Burglary Crimes

Burglary consists of two parts or "elements":

  • unlawfully entering or remaining in a building or habitation, and
  • intending to commit a felony, theft, or assault 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.

Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the Building

The first element of the crime of burglary—unlawfully entering or remaining—may be accomplished in two ways:

  • by entering a building or certain property that you don't have permission to enter in the first place, or
  • by remaining in a building after your permission to be there has expired.

An example of the latter scenario includes legally entering a department store during business hours but then hiding when the store closes to the public in order to steal merchandise after hours.

Intent to Commit a Felony, Theft, or Assault

The second element of burglary concerns a defendant's state of mind at the time of entering the building. To be convicted of burglary, the defendant must have decided to commit a felony, theft, or assault, and then entered the building (or stayed beyond the permitted time) for that purpose. The defendant does not need to complete the intended crime (such as theft from the building). Rather, proof of entry and circumstances tending to show the defendant's intent to commit a crime (such as carrying a weapon) are the only requirements for a conviction.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-1001, 39-13-1002 (2023).)

Is Burglary a Felony in Tennessee?

All burglary offenses are felonies in Tennessee. The law divides burglary into three categories—burglary, aggravated burglary, and especially aggravated burglary.

Burglary Penalties

The lowest offense level is burglary, which involves buildings other than homes or dwellings. A defendant commits burglary by unlawfully entering or remaining in a public or private building (not a habitation) with the intent of committing a felony, theft, or assault.

Burglary is a Class D felony, punishable by 2 to 12 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, the crime is lowered to a Class E felony if the person burglarized a structure that was a train car, automobile, boat, airplane, or another motor vehicle. Class E felonies carry one to six years of incarceration and a $3,000 fine.

Aggravated Burglary Penalties

Aggravated burglary (also called "home invasion") is a Class C felony. It occurs when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a habitation with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault inside. A habitation includes:

  • any structure designed or adapted for overnight dwelling (occupied or not)
  • a self-propelled vehicle that is occupied at the time of the defendant's entry (like a motor home), and
  • each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle.

A person guilty of aggravated burglary faces 3 to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Especially Aggravated Burglary Penalties

Especially aggravated burglary constitutes a Class B felony. This crime occurs when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a habitation or other building (public or private) with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault therein, and the crime results in any person (who's lawfully on the premises) suffering serious bodily injury.

A Class B felony carries penalties of 8 to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-1001, 39-13-1002, 39-13-1003, 39-13-1004, 39-14-401, 40-35-111 (2023).)

Penalties for Possession of Burglar's Tools in Tennessee

A person can also commit a crime by possessing any tool designed or commonly used for burglary with the intent to use the tool for that purpose or to allow someone else to use it for a burglary. Examples of burglar tools include dynamite, torches, and other explosive devices.

Possession of burglar's tools is a Class A misdemeanor, which subjects the offender to up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-701, 40-35-111 (2023).)

Criminal Trespass Laws and Penalties in Tennessee

Tennessee law also prohibits the related crimes of criminal trespass and aggravated criminal trespass.

What Is Criminal Trespass?

A person commits criminal trespass by knowingly entering onto (or remaining on) private property without the consent of the owner. The property may include land, a building, or other structure. Here, entering can be accomplished by physically being present on the property or using a drone to enter the property's private airspace.

Trespass and burglary differ in that trespass does not require that the defendant enter the property with the intent to commit a crime. Instead, merely entering without consent qualifies as trespass. Lack of consent may be:

  • direct (such as an owner saying "get off my property")
  • inferred on property that is not open to the general public or closed off by fencing or gates, or
  • presented through signage, postings, or special markings indicating the property is closed to the general public (such as "no trespassing" signs or repeat purple paint marks).

Aggravated criminal trespass is a similar but more serious crime, which occurs when a defendant enters or remains on property without the owner's consent and either:

  • the defendant knew (or should have known) that such entry would cause another person to fear for their safety, or
  • the defendant gained entry by destroying or altering a gate or other barrier designed to keep trespassers from entering the property.

Penalties for Criminal Trespass and Aggravated Criminal Trespass

Criminal trespass constitutes a Class C misdemeanor. A person who commits criminal trespass faces up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $50.

Aggravated criminal trespass is a Class B misdemeanor and carries up to six months in jail, as well as a $500 fine. However, aggravated criminal trespass that occurred in a habitation, a hospital building, or on school property increases to a Class A misdemeanor. An offender guilty of a Class A misdemeanor is subject to up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-405, 39-14-406, 40-35-111 (2023).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with burglary, criminal trespass, or any related crime, consult a qualified local criminal defense attorney. An experienced lawyer can review the unique facts of your situation and advise you on how the law will apply to your case.

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