Understanding the Difference Between Burglary and Criminal Trespass

In Pennsylvania, criminal trespass and burglary are related, but they are separate offenses. Both the state’s burglary and criminal trespass laws are meant to protect the public and the property people own from people entering their private property without their permission.

However, burglary includes additional elements that criminal trespass does not. Here is some information from a criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law to help you understand these two crimes and what to expect if you are charged with either one.

What is Burglary Under Pennsylvania Law?

In Pennsylvania, a burglary occurs when you enter an occupied structure or building without permission and with the intent to commit another crime inside.

Before a prosecutor can secure a conviction for this offense, he or she must prove both the fact that you unlawfully entered the property and that you did so with the intent to commit a crime while inside the structure or building.

A building or occupied structure includes any building used for business or a structure designed to provide overnight accommodations. It does not matter whether or not someone is present when you enter.

This can include an office building, apartment, warehouse, home, or recreational vehicle.

What Are the Elements of Burlgary?

The prosecutor has the burden of proving all of the elements of burglary beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. If the prosecutor is unable to prove one of the elements, you cannot be found guilty of burglary.

However, you might be found guilty of a lesser included offense, including trespass or attempted burglary, depending on the circumstances. The first element of burglary is that you unlawfully entered the building or occupied structure without permission.

You do not have to use force to enter unlawfully. For example, if you gained entry by threats or fraud or simply reached through a mail slot to open the door, that is sufficient.

The second element of burglary is that you intended to commit a crime after unlawfully entering the structure or building. This element requires the prosecutor to present evidence about your state of mind at the time that you entered.

The crime you intended to commit inside can be a misdemeanor or felony. You must have intended to commit the crime and unlawfully entered for the purpose of doing so.

You do not need to have successfully completed the intended crime. Instead, having the criminal intent at the time of entry alone is sufficient.

Penalties for Burglary

Burglaries in Pennsylvania are classified as felonies. If you enter into a home or enter into a building or occupied structure with the intent to commit a crime when people are present inside, the penalties will be more severe.

Possessing burglary tools is also a misdemeanor crime.

First-Degree Burglary

You can be charged with first-degree burglary if you enter an occupied structure or building that has been adapted for overnight accommodation.

You can also face first-degree burglary charges if you enter a building or occupied structure to commit a crime while someone is present or when you enter a building or occupied structure to steal drugs. Under these types of situations, you will face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

However, the penalties you will receive will depend on the severity of the offense. You will face more severe penalties when the risk of harm is higher.

For example, if you committed a home burglary when no one was at home, you would face a lesser sentence than if you burglarized a home when someone was present, and you injured him or her.

Second-Degree Burglary

You can be charged with second-degree burglary if the building you unlawfully entered to commit a crime was not adapted for overnight accommodations and no one was inside at the time of your entry.

If you are convicted of second-degree burglary, you will face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $25,000.

Possessing Burglary Tools

If you were caught with burglary tools, you can face a first-degree misdemeanor. These might include things like crowbars, false keys, and other instruments intended to be used to commit a burglary.

A conviction for possessing burglary tools can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Is Criminal Trespass?

In Pennsylvania, criminal trespass can be charged when you entered any type of private property without permission. The property does not have to be a building or occupied structure.

However, the entry must be completed when you defy a order against trespassing, including an obvious posted sign, a locked gate, or by using subterfuge to enter without permission. You do not need to have entered with the intent to commit a crime, unlike burglary.

In many burglary cases, it is common for the prosecutor to file charges of both burglary and criminal trespass so that if the defendant is found not guilty of burglary, the prosecutor might still secure a conviction for criminal trespass.

There are several categories of criminal trespass in Pennsylvania with varying penalties that are described below.

Trespass Into a Building or Occupied Structure

If you trespass into a building or occupied structure, you will face either second- or third-degree felony charges. If you break into the building or occupied structure to gain entry, it is a second-degree felony carrying up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $25,000.

If you only entered but did not break in, it is a third-degree felony carrying up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $15,000.

Trespassing Onto Private Property Other Than Occupied Structures or Buildings

If you trespassed onto private property even though you had actual notice not to enter, you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a summary offense.

If an authorized person commanded you to leave and you refused, you could be charged with a misdemeanor carrying up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If you entered in defiance of a posted notice or locked gate, it is a summary offense carrying up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.

If you knowingly trespassed onto private property for the purpose of annoying the owner or causing slight damage, it is a simple trespass and a summary offense.

A conviction can result in a jail sentence of up to 90 days and a fine of up to $300.

Choosing an experienced defense lawyer who knows the different judges, court staff, and local prosecutors might help you to secure a better outcome in your case.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC

29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535

***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case. ***