Home invasions (going into someone else’s house without permission) are illegal in all states. They are usually charged as burglary (entering into a building with the intent to commit a crime inside) or trespass, which is a less serious crime. For more information, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, Differences Between Theft, Burglary and Robbery, and Juvenile Theft and Burglary Laws, Trespassing Penalties.
A person commits the crime of burglary by entering a building without the owner’s permission with the intent to commit a crime inside. Historically, burglary was restricted to “breaking and entering” a dwelling at night (using force to enter), but most states have loosened or done away with these requirements. Today, a person can commit burglary against a store, an office, or any other building. For example, a person who breaks into a pharmacy in order to steal prescription medication can be convicted of burglary.
In order to convict a person of burglary, the prosecutor must show that the defendant entered the building with the intent to commit a felony (a crime punishable by a prison sentence) or theft. It does not matter whether the theft (or other crime) is actually completed. For example, a person who breaks into a home intending to kidnap a child and is scared off by a dog can still be convicted of burglary, as well as attempted kidnapping.
Usually, the prosecutor can rely on the circumstances surrounding the offense to show intent and does not have to prove exactly what the defendant was thinking. For example, if a person enters a home by breaking a window in the middle of the night, that may be enough to convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit a crime inside the home.
Often, burglary is punished more severely if the defendant goes into someone else’s home or dwelling. Some states have specific laws against home invasion burglaries. In most states, a dwelling includes a house or apartment, a dorm room, a houseboat, a hunting camp, or even an RV. Sometimes, burglary or home invasion is punished more severely if the building is occupied during the crime.
People commit criminal trespass by going onto someone else’s property without permission from the owner. For example, going into a person’s backyard without permission is trespass. In most states, in order to convict a person of trespass, the prosecutor needs to prove onlythat the defendant did not have permission to enter the property. For example, if a homeless person is found sleeping in someone’s garage, that could be considered trespass. (Depending on state law, the garage may or may not be considered part of the house.) Trespass is often punished more severely if the property is a dwelling.
Penalties for home invasion burglary and trespass vary from state to state. Generally, burglary is a felony, punishable by more than one year in prison, and a fine. Residential burglary is often punished quite severely, and some states impose terms of life in prison for armed home invasions. In many states, trespass is punished less severely than burglary.
If you are charged with burglary, trespass, or any other crime as a result of a home invasion, consult with a local criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.