Texas laws are often unclear and confusing, especially concerning property violations. For example, did you know entering someone’s property without permission is illegal, even if there was no “breaking” of a lock or window to gain entry?
Today’s post discusses how Texas law defines breaking and entering (or B&E), including the differences between burglary and criminal trespassing. We’ll review everything associated with breaking and entering in Texas, including the elements defining the crime, punishments if convicted, recent updates to the Texas B&E laws, and how a smart legal defense can help if charged.
Breaking & Entering vs. Burglary vs. Criminal Trespass
Although these three crimes are similar, the law has distinct definitions and penalties for each. In order to provide a better understanding, let’s look at the legal specifications for each offense.
In Texas, the act of entering someone else’s property without their permission is illegal and can be classified as breaking and entering. Although illegally entering a property is typically associated with committing a crime, such as burglary, this is not necessary to file charges and obtain a conviction for B&E.
Now let’s review breaking and entering vs. burglary. In Texas, burglary involves two key elements: unlawfully entering a property (or remaining without consent) and the intention or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or assault. Even if the felony, theft, or assault were unsuccessful with the break-in, proof of intent could still carry a conviction. Burglary charges also apply to unlawful entry into coin-operated and coin collection machines or a vehicle, intending to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
Breaking and entering vs. trespassing is a little different. Under the 30.05 Texas Penal Code, criminal trespassing applies in Texas under these circumstances:
- An individual enters or remains on or in property, including an aircraft or other vehicle, of another without effective consent.
- An individual enters or remains in a building of another without effective consent and has notice that the entry was forbidden.
- An individual enters or remains in a building of another without effective consent, receives notice to depart, and fails to do so.
Although illegally entering private property simply for the sake of trespassing can occur, in most instances, the illegal entry accompanies an attempt to commit another crime, such as theft.
Elements of a Breaking and Entering Charge in Texas
Now that we’ve clarified the differences between these similar crimes – let’s focus specifically on a B&E charge and the elements that must be present for a conviction to occur. As the name implies, attempted breaking and entering acts typically involve using force to gain illegal entry into private property, such as smashing a window, forcing a door open, or cutting a fence.
However, charges can still be filed if actual force or physical damage didn’t occur during the act. For example, breaking and entering charges can also apply when a person uses deceit or fraud to unlawfully gain entry into private property, such as impersonating another (i.e., a police officer or service provider). Basically, the simple fact that an individual unlawfully entered the property (or remained concealed within) without the owner’s permission is enough for a conviction and punishment for breaking and entering to occur.
What is the Punishment for Breaking and Entering?
Is breaking and entering a misdemeanor? Or worse, is breaking and entering a felony in Texas? The answer to both depends on many factors, including the breaking & entering charges or, in some cases, if it is a first-offense breaking and entering charge.
In all cases, the penalties for breaking and entering will heavily rely on the circumstances of the crime, including the type of property entered and if there was intent to or the commitment of a crime.
For example, if a person knowingly enters onto (or remains on) private property without the consent of the owner, it can be classified as criminal trespassing. This crime is typically a Class B misdemeanor with fines of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail. However, if the B&E occurred in a protected area, like a private home, then the crime may be classified as a Class A misdemeanor with $4,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.
So, when is B&E a felony? The most severe B&E charges typically usually involve burglaries committed in places of habitation, such as a private home, RV, or hotel. These crimes are usually classified as second-degree felonies, which can include fines of up to $10,000 and up to 20 years in jail. However, if a burglary involves assault, kidnapping, or a similar crime, it can be prosecuted as a first-degree felony with fines up to $10,000 and between 5 – 99 years in prison.
Recent Changes and Updates to B&E Laws in Texas
On TV, in movies, and on the news, it’s common to hear the phrase “breaking and entering” when referring to burglaries or home invasions. However, many states, including Texas, no longer use this language. Instead, current law supports and prohibits “unlawfully entering or remaining concealed in a building.” Therefore, actual force or physical damage does not have to occur for breaking and entering charges, such as criminal trespassing, to be filed.
Possible Legal Defenses in Breaking and Entering Case
If you are curious about how to beat a B&E charge – keep reading. A few avenues are available depending on the circumstances surrounding the charges for breaking and entering in question. Most defense attorneys that want their defendants to avoid breaking and entering jail time will focus on the issue of intent, as this separates a burglary charge from a criminal trespassing charge.
However, only a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney can determine how the law will affect your case and advise on how to beat a breaking and entering charge. If you or a loved one are facing B&E charges, from trespassing to burglary, contact the GHC Law Firm immediately. We are Austin criminal defense attorneys with the expertise, professional knowledge, legal insight, and persistence to help you fight for your rights and reputation.