Burglary: Charges, Penalties, and Sentencing

The legal definition of burglary covers a broad range of conduct. Learn what conduct is considered burglary and the possible penalties involved.

When people think of burglary, they might think of a thief in a black outfit sneaking into someone's home in the middle of the night. While such activity definitely counts as burglary, the legal definition applies to a much broader range of activities. Though state laws differ slightly in how they categorize burglaries, it is a crime in every state and one that often comes with significant penalties. You can find our 50-state chart below, which lists the range of maximum penalties for burglary in each state.

What Constitutes Burglary?

A person commits burglary when he enters a building without permission and with intent to commit a crime within. To show that a burglary occurred, a prosecutor must produce evidence on the following points and convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt on each of them.

Entering a Building or Structure

It used to be that burglary laws applied only when someone broke into another person's house or dwelling. Today, the law prohibits anyone from entering into any structure, not just a home. Many state laws identify the types of structures that count as a building for burglary crimes. They include stores, school buildings, houseboats, and even tents or campsites. Some states also differentiate between burglary of a commercial space and burglary of a residence—punishing residential burglary more harshly. For residential burglary, the building must be a home, apartment, or some type of structure in which a person lives.

Illegal Entry

The prosecutor must also prove that the accused entered the building illegally or without permission. This generally means that the building must be either a private one or a public one that was not open or otherwise publicly accessible.

Illegal entry also applies to a person who enters a structure that’s open to the public but with the intent to commit a crime inside—like a person who walks into a store with the intent to steal merchandise. The reasoning is that the owner’s permission extends only to those who enter for legitimate purposes. When the thief enters for illegal purposes, that permission does not apply. It's also an illegal entry to enter a locked or prohibited space within a public building, such as an employee breakroom or area marked as prohibited to the public.

The crime of burglary also requires that the defendant enter the building. A person’s entire body need not enter—the crime still occurs if the person simply reaches into a building or uses a tool to perform the illegal entry.

Use of Force

Burglary in some states also involves “breaking” into the building. Although the term implies a forced entry (like picking a lock or breaking a window), any type of unlawful entry—no matter how minimal—is enough to satisfy this requirement. For example, it's enough for an accused person to open a door or lift an unlocked window to satisfy the use-of-force requirement.

In fact, many states have eliminated the requirement that the defendant break in. Thus, walking freely through a store entrance, intending to steal goods, can be a burglary (see “Illegal Entry,” above).

Intent to Commit a Felony or Theft

To convict someone of burglary, a prosecutor must prove that the person unlawfully entered the building with the intent to commit a felony or a theft. Typically, a person convicted of burglary intends to enter the building in order to steal something, but it's also burglary if the person illegally enters with intent to commit felony assault or felony property damage.

Generally, the person must intend to commit a crime before or right at the point of entry. No burglary occurs when a person enters a building without intending to commit a crime but does so later. Say a guest comes to a BBQ with no illegal plans but later decides to swipe cash he sees lying on a counter—in this case, the guest has committed theft but not burglary. Also, it's burglary when a person enters a building with an intent to steal but later changes his mind or gets caught before having a chance to commit the intended crime. It's the intent to commit a crime, not the occurrence of the crime, that counts.

Prosecutors typically prove criminal intent from the circumstances of the case. They do not have to show exactly what was in the accused person's mind at the time. For instance, a homeowner comes home to find the TV ripped off the wall and sees a person loading the TV into a van behind her house. She calls the police who track down the van and suspect, and in the van, the police find multiple TVs, lock picks, and crowbars. Here, the jury would likely infer the suspect entered the house (and maybe other houses) intending to steal a TV.

Read more about how prosecutors prove intent to commit burglary.

Penalties

Burglary offenses are serious crimes and typically charged as felonies, though some states allow for misdemeanor burglary charges in certain situations. A burglary conviction comes with several possible penalties, but the actual sentencing options for burglary convictions differ widely among states.

Jail or prison. Burglary convictions result in a wide range of prison or jail sentences. A conviction for a felony burglary offense typically carries a sentence of more than one years' incarceration in a state prison. Depending on the state and circumstances of the case, a felony burglary conviction can result in 20 years or more in prison. A misdemeanor burglary charge can be punished by up to a year in jail.

Fines. Burglary fines can be significant. Depending on the state, a fine for burglary can be $100,000 or more for a felony conviction. Misdemeanor fines are usually less than $1,000.

Restitution. Though you can commit a burglary without taking or damaging any property, a burglary that does result in property loss or damage can also come with a restitution sentence. When a court orders you to pay restitution, you have to pay victims to compensate them for their losses—allowing them to repair or replace the damaged or lost property. Restitution is in addition to any fines the court imposes.

Probation. Probation sentences are sometimes imposed in burglary cases. A judge can sentence a person to probation either independently of a prison or jail sentence or in addition to such a sentence. When you're on probation, you must comply with all the court's conditions or you risk having to serve the original jail or prison sentence. For example, courts usually require a person on probation to regularly report to a probation officer, as well as submit to drug testing, home searches, or other conditions.

Talk to a Lawyer

Burglary is a serious charge. If you face burglary charges, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before making decisions about your case.

50-State Chart on Burglary Penalties

Many states classify burglary offenses by the severity of the crime or risk of bodily harm involved. Typically, residential burglaries carry harsher penalties than nonresidential burglaries, because a burglary of a home carries a higher risk of an individual being present and harmed. States often increase burglary penalties if the residence is occupied, the intruder carried a weapon, or someone in the home was injured.

Consult the chart below to get information for burglary and home invasion laws by state. Note that the chart provides a range of maximum penalties available for burglary offenses in that state; it does not list all the possible penalties. (State law typically sets a maximum sentence for a crime, but the actual punishment imposed will depend on the circumstances of the crime and the offender's criminal history.)

State

Penalties at a Glance
Alabama Burglary is classified as a class A, B, or C felony offense. The maximum penalties range from ten years to life in prison.
Alaska Burglary is classified as a class B or C felony offense. The maximum penalties range from five to ten years in prison.
Arizona Burglary is classified as a class 2, 3, or 4 felony offense. The maximum penalties range from eight to 21 years in prison.
Arkansas Aggravated residential burglary is classified as a class Y felony, with a minimum prison sentence of ten years and a maximum life sentence. Other types of burglary are classified as class B or C felonies, with maximum prison sentences ranging from ten to 20 years.
California Burglary with explosives is punishable by three, five, or seven years in prison. First-degree burglary of an inhabited dwelling is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison. Second-degree burglary offenses carry up to one year's imprisonment.
Colorado Burglary is classified as a class 3, 4, or 5 felony. The maximum penalties range from three to 12 years in prison.
Connecticut Home invasion is classified as a class A felony. Penalties range from ten to 25 years in prison. Other types of burglary are classified as class B, C, or D felonies, with maximum penalties ranging from five to 20 years in prison.
Delaware Burglary is classified as a class B, C, D, or E felony. The maximum penalties range from three to 25 years in prison.
District of Columbia (D.C.) Burglary is classified as a first- or second-degree offense. The maximum penalties range from 15 to 30 years in prison.
Florida Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, or third-degree felony. The maximum penalties range from five years to life in prison.
Georgia Burglary is classified as a first- or second-degree offense. The maximum penalties range from five to 20 years in prison.
Hawaii Burglary is classified as a class B or C felony. The maximum penalties range from five to ten years in prison.
Idaho Burglary carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, while burglary with explosives carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Illinois Home invasion is classified as a Class X felony. Penalties range from six to 30 years in prison (and 30 to 60 years for extended term sentences). Other types of burglary are classified as class 1, 2, or 3 felonies, with maximum penalties ranging from five to 15 years in prison (and ten to 30 years for extended term sentences).
Indiana Burglary is classified as a level 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 felony. The maximum penalties range from six to 40 years in prison.
Iowa Burglary is classified as a class B, C, or D felony. The maximum penalties range from five to 25 years in prison.
Kansas Burglary is classified as a severity level 4, 5, or 7 person felony or a severity level 5, 7, or 9 nonperson felony. The maximum penalties range from 17 months to 14.3 years in prison.
Kentucky Burglary is classified as a class B, C, or D felony. The maximum penalties range from five to 20 years in prison.
Louisiana Home invasion carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling carries a maximum 12-year sentence. Aggravated burglary carries a maximum 30-year sentence.
Maine Burglary is classified as a class A, B, or C crime. The maximum penalties range from five to 30 years in prison.
Maryland Home invasion carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. Other types of burglary are classified as first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree crimes, with maximum penalties ranging from three to 20 years in prison.
Massachusetts Armed burglary involving a firearm carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. Other armed burglaries carry prison sentences of ten years to life, and unarmed burglary carries a maximum penalty ranging from five to 20 years in prison.
Michigan Home invasion can be classified as a first-, second-, or third-degree crime, with maximum penalties ranging from five to 20 years in prison. Other types of burglary carry maximum penalties ranging from five to 30 years in prison.
Minnesota Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree crime. The maximum penalties range from one year and a day to 20 years in prison.
Mississippi Home invasion burglary carries a penalty ranging from three to 25 years in prison. Other types of burglary carry maximum penalties ranging from seven to 40 years in prison.
Missouri Burglary is classified as a class B or D felony. The maximum penalties range from seven to 15 years in prison.
Montana Aggravated burglary carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Burglary carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Nebraska Burglary is classified as a Class IIA felony with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Nevada Residential burglary is classified as a category B felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Other types of burglary are classified as category B, C, D, or E felonies with maximum penalties ranging from four to 15 years in prison.
New Hampshire Burglary is classified as a class A or B felony. The maximum penalties range from seven to 15 years in prison.
New Jersey Burglary is classified as a second- or third-degree crime. The maximum penalties range from five to ten years in prison.
New Mexico Burglary is classified as a third- or fourth-degree felony. The maximum penalties range from 18 months to three years in prison. Aggravated burglary is a second-degree felony and carries up to nine years in prison.
New York Burglary is classified as a class B, C, or D felony. The maximum penalties range from seven to 25 years in prison.
North Carolina Home invasion burglaries are classified as class D and G felonies and carry maximum penalties of 13.3 years (class D) and 31 months (class G). Burglary with explosives is a class D felony. Other burglaries are classified as Class E, F, G, or H felonies and carry maximum penalties ranging from 25 to 63 months (approximately two to five years) in prison.
North Dakota Burglary is classified as a class B or C felony. The maximum penalties range from five to ten years in prison.
Ohio Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, third-, or fifth-degree felony. The maximum penalties range from 12 months to 16.5 years in prison.
Oklahoma Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, or third-degree crime. The maximum penalties range from five to 20 years in prison.
Oregon Burglary is classified as a class A or C felony. The maximum penalties range from five to 20 years in prison.
Pennsylvania Burglary is classified as a first- or second-degree felony. The maximum penalties range from ten to 20 years in prison.
Rhode Island Burglary carries a sentence of five years to life in prison.
South Carolina Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, or third-degree crime. The maximum penalties range from five years to life in prison.
South Dakota Burglary is classified as a class 2, 3, or 5 felony. The maximum penalties range from five to 25 years in prison.
Tennessee Burglary is classified as a class B, C, D, or E felony. The maximum penalties range from six to 30 years in prison.
Texas Burglary is classified as a first-, second-, or third-degree felony or a state jail felony. First- through third-degree felonies carry maximum penalties of ten to 99 years in prison. A state jail felony carries a maximum two-year sentence of imprisonment.
Utah Burglary involving weapons, explosives, or violence is a first-degree felony and carries a penalty of five years to life in prison. Burglary of a dwelling is a second-degree felony and carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Other burglaries are third-degree felonies and carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Vermont Burglary of a dwelling carries up to 30 years in prison. Other burglaries carry maximum penalties ranging from 15 to 20 years in prison.
Virginia Burglary is classified as a class 2, 3, or 6 felony or as a separate offense of statutory burglary. Statutory burglary carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for a class 6 felony is five years in prison. Class 2 and 3 felonies carry maximum penalties of 20 years and up to life in prison.
Washington Residential burglary is classified as a class B felony. Other types of burglary are classified as class A or B felonies. The maximum penalties range from 15 years to life in prison.
West Virginia Burglary of a dwelling carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Burglary of other buildings carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Wisconsin Burglary is classified as a Class E or F felony. The maximum penalties range from 12.5 to 15 years.
Wyoming Burglary is classified as a felony and punished by a maximum of ten to 25 years in prison.

Last updated: September 2020

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