Burglary and Home Invasions in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, it is a crime to go onto someone else’s property without permission. A person who does so could be charged with trespassing (a relatively minor offense) or burglary (a more serious crime committed by entering a building in order to commit a crime inside). Some burglaries, such as armed burglaries and home invasion burglaries (entries into occupied homes) are punished very severely. For more general information on these crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.


Traditionally, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Today, states have done away with many of these narrow requirements, and a person commits burglary simply by entering into a building without permission with the intent to commit a crime inside.

In Wisconsin, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering without permission and with the intent to commit any theft or a felony inside:

  • any building
  • any enclosed railroad car or ship
  • a locked and enclosed cargo portion of a truck or trailer, or
  • a motor home or trailer.

A person also commits burglary by entering into any room or portion of a building or vehicle described above without permission and with the intent to commit theft or a felony inside.

A person who goes into a place that is open to the general public enters with permission and cannot be charged with burglary. For example, a teenager who goes into a store during business hours intending to shoplift could not be charged with burglary, only theft or attempted theft. However, if the teen sneaks into the office of the store – which is not open to the public – to commit a crime, then the child could be charged with burglary. (Wis. Stat. § 943.10.) Note that many states do not follow this general rule; in these states, entering a place that's open to the public with the intention of committing a theft or other crime inside will, indeed, expose the person to a charge of burglary.

Aggravated burglaries, including home invasions

Burglaries are punished more severely under certain circumstances, including when:

  • the defendant is armed or becomes armed (such as by stealing a weapon) during the burglary
  • the defendant opens or tries to open any safe or vault with explosives
  • the defendant commits battery (causes injury) against an occupant, or
  • the burglary occurs at a dwelling, a motor home or trailer, or a boat with sleeping quarters; and another person (other than a codefendant) is present at the time of the offense.

(Wis. Stat. § 943.10.) For more information on battery, see Battery Laws in Wisconsin and Felony Battery Laws in Wisconsin.

Intent to commit a crime

How do you determine if a person has entered a building or vehicle intending to commit a crime? Sometimes, defendants will confess that they were in a person’s home or car in order to steal money or other objects of value. However, even without a confession, a defendant’s illicit intention can often be determined by the circumstances. For example, if a man is found inside a person’s home and says that he is public utility repairman, but he has no credentials, and no repair has been requested, and then he strikes the homeowner and runs away, the circumstances tend to show that the man entered the house to commit some crime. Even if the intended felony or theft never occurs, the crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters without permission and with the illicit intent.

Burglary Tools

Many states criminalize the possession of burglary tools. Under Wisconsin state law, a burglary tool is any tool or device “intended, designed or adapted” for breaking into a building or a room or a safe or vault (or similar receptacle) with the intent to use the tool to break into a place or object and commit theft. (Wis. Stat. § 943.12.) For example, a person who has a crowbar and intends to use it to break into a car and steal the car could be convicted of possession of burglary tools. (For more information on burglary tools, see Burglary Tools.)


A person commits trespass by entering onto property without permission from the owner. Wisconsin has complicated trespassing laws, and penalties vary depending on the character of the property at issue. One of the most serious types of trespass (criminal trespass of a dwelling) is committed by entering into some place where a person lives or sleeps without permission under circumstances “tending to create or provoke a breach of the peace,” which simply means any circumstances likely to upset or frighten someone. (Wis. Stat. § 943.14.) For example, going into the home of a person you do not know in the middle of the night would probably be considered criminal trespass of a dwelling.

It is also a crime to go onto a construction site or into a locked or otherwise enclosed building, room, or dwelling without permission; or to go into a medical facility without permission under circumstances tending to provoke a breach of the peace. (Wis. Stat. § § 943.145, 943.15.) For example, a protestor who goes into a women’s health clinic and starts screaming at people and refusing to leave when asked could be charged with trespassing. It is also trespassing to go onto another person’s land or onto public land without permission, or to carry a firearm onto property after having been asked by the owner not to do so. (Wis. Stat. § 943.13.)


Burglary is a Class F felony, punishable by up to 12 years and six months in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. Aggravated burglary is a Class E felony, punishable by a fine of up to $50,000, up to 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. Possession of burglary tools is a Class I felony, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, a prison term of up to three years and six months, or both imprisonment and a fine. Trespass on a dwelling, construction site, or locked building or room is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both jail and a fine. Trespass on a medical facility is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Otherwise, trespass is a Class B forfeiture, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. For more information on sentencing, see Wisconsin Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Wisconsin Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with burglary, trespassing, or any other crime in Wisconsin, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can answer your questions and help you present the strongest possible defense so that you can protect your rights and obtain the best outcome in your case.

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