Overview of Texas Burglary and Criminal Trespass Laws
Burglary and criminal trespass are crimes which violate Texas law. Although similar, they are two separate crimes. Burglary is the more serious of the two. A prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that without consent of the owner, the defendant entered a private habitation or any part of a building that was not open to the public with the intent to commit a felony, theft or assault. Alternately, the prosecutor can prove that the defendant remained hidden with the intent to commit a felony, theft or assault, or that the defendant actually did manage to enter the private habitation or building and either committed or attempted to commit a felony, theft or assault. Entering a vehicle or breaking into a coin-operated machine with the intent to commit a felony or theft is also considered burglary. For burglary, even if the felony, theft or assault did not take place, a defendant may be found guilty, even if all he/she had was the intent to commit a crime.
- Example: Bob broke into Mary’s house in hopes of stealing her new television. However, once he broke in and entered the house, the alarm went off and Bob fled the scene. Even though Bob did not take anything from Mary’s house, since he intended to do so upon entering, Bob may be found guilty of burglary.
On the other hand, for a defendant to be convicted of a criminal trespass, the only things a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are:
- The defendant entered or remained on the property of another without the person’s consent; and
- The defendant had notice that the entry was forbidden, or received notice to leave but failed to do so.
The main difference between criminal trespass and burglary is the intent, or lack thereof, to commit a felony, theft or assault once the defendant has entered the property.
Defenses to Burglary and Criminal Trespass Charges
- Mistake of fact (e.g. Bob thought he was entering his house, but in fact, it was his next door neighbor’s house.)
- For burglary, lack of intent to commit a felony, theft or assault
- For criminal trespass, at the time of the offense, the person was a firefighter or other emergency personnel lawfully acting under an official duty
- For criminal trespass, at the time of the offense, the person was working for an electric utility, telecommunications provider, video/cable services provider, a gas utility or a pipeline and was acting under a lawful duty
Penalties and Sentences
For burglary, the offense can carry various charges depending on whether the place that was unlawfully entered was a habitation, coin-operated machine, or vehicle. For a habitation, the crime is charged as a second degree felony, which carries a sentence of anywhere between two to twenty years in a state prison and/or a fine of no more than $10,000. For a building that is not a habitation, the charge is a state jail felony. This carries a sentence of 180 days to two years in a state jail and/or a fine of no more than $10,000. A burglary of a coin-operated machine will be a “Class A misdemeanor” carrying a penalty of no more than one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000. A burglary of a vehicle will be also be a “Class A” misdemeanor except that it will carry a minimum jail sentence of 6 months. Also, it may be elevated to a state jail felony if the defendant has been convicted of the same crime two times or more in the past.
For criminal trespass, the charge will be a misdemeanor. Whether it will be classified as a class A, B or C misdemeanor depends on the type of property that was trespassed upon.
Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 30