Burglary and Criminal Trespass are two crimes that involve unlawfully entering or being present on another’s property. However, from a legal standpoint, the two are defined very differently. The consequences of each act also vary depending upon local laws. If you aren’t sure of the difference between burglary and criminal trespass, read on!

What is the Legal Definition of Burglary?

The crime of burglary is very specific. At its purest definition, it means a person illegally entered a property with the intent to commit a crime. For instance, if a person picks a lock or breaks a window to enter a house with the intention to steal jewelry and money, this is a burglary. As another example, if someone entered an unlocked door with the intention of causing harm to a person inside, this too is a form of burglary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the four types of burglary are: Completed burglary, forcible entry, unlawful entry without force, and attempted forcible entry. If authorities arrest a person for burglary, the charge could range from a misdemeanor to a felony.

How is Criminal Trespass Legally Defined?

Criminal Trespass is when a person intrudes or remains on someone else’s property without their permission; it is considered to be a criminal offense. Like burglary, the key word here also is intent. To meet this criterion and be considered to be unlawful, the person must have:

  • Knowingly gone onto the property without authorization
  • Remained on the property after learning their presence is unwelcome
  • Owner specifically directed visitors are unwanted and was ignored (i.e. a posted sign, fence around the property, verbal statement, or a locked structure)

Accidentally wandering around someone’s wooded property isn’t deliberate and would not be considered to be criminal trespass, but traipsing through their woods to go deer hunting after reading a “no trespassing” sign would be. Most of the time, criminal trespass is an infraction or misdemeanor, however, there are some states that consider it to be a felony. If any damage is done to the property during the trespass, the consequences are typically more severe.

Key Differences Between Burglary and Criminal Trespass

To charge a person with burglary, law enforcement has to be able to demonstrate intended to commit a crime when they knowingly entered someone’s property. They typically do this by establishing circumstantial evidence and showing the person threatened or harmed a person, or had stolen goods in his or her possession. On the other hand, while criminal trespass is also committed with intention, the key difference is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be with an intention to commit a crime. Just the sheer fact of being there without authorization is enough to warrant criminal trespass.

Other Things to Know

Did you know approximately 60 percent of convicted burglars surveyed by the University of North Carolina [PDF] said security systems are one of the deterrents that influenced their decisions to target a home? Additionally, the study also found:

Most burglars would try to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary. Among those that determined that an alarm was present after initiating a burglary, about half would discontinue the attempt (UNC Study)

Other statistics suggest a burglary happens every 15 seconds. That number is staggering. 

Interested in a home security system and protecting yourself from people unlawfully entering your property? Contact Protect America today for a free quote.