Burglary, Home Invasions, and Criminal Trespass in Tennessee

A person who commits burglary in Tennessee can face serious felony penalties, including lengthy terms of incarceration and substantial fines.

Each state has its own laws defining burglary, home invasion (the burglary of a dwelling), and trespass. Penalties for such offenses vary according to the circumstances of the crime, as described below.

Burglary and Home Invasions 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

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 breaking into or entering property that you don’t have permission to enter in the first place, or
  • by remaining on the property 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 §§ 39-14-401 to -403 (2020).)

Burglary and Home Invasion Penalties

Tennessee divides burglary into three categories, with prison terms increasing along with the severity of the crime.

Burglary constitutes a Class D felony when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a public or private building (but not a habitation) with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault. A person who commits a Class D felony faces two 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. This level of felony subjects the offender to one to six years of incarceration and a $3,000 fine.

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, a self-propelled vehicle that is actually 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 who is guilty of aggravated burglary faces three to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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 eight to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-401 to -404; 40-35-111 (2020).)

Possession of Burglar’s Tools

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 (2020).)

Criminal Trespass: Crimes and Penalties

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

Elements of 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 or a building or other structure. A person can enter with their entire body or use of a drone.

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. Consent may be:

  • direct (an owner saying “you may enter my property”)
  • inferred on property that is used for commercial purposes open to the general public, or
  • presented through signage or other postings that make it clear that the property is open to the general public.

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

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, -406; 40-35-111 (2020).)

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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