Burglary is probably one of the most misunderstood legal statutes on the books. Most people assume it is only a theft crime – and, indeed, many government criminal records file it as such – but it is actually a form of property crime. The legal definition of burglary is the unlawful or unauthorized entry into a building, structure, or property in order to commit another crime once there. Nowhere in the definition does it explicitly mention thievery.
Burglary has become synonymous with theft because this is generally the secondary crime that is committed after burglary. A person breaks into a home, for example, to steal something more often than they do for any other reason. In some cases, burglary cannot even be committed if the structure is knowingly occupied, as that could escalate the charges to robbery or shoplifting.
Three Degrees of Burglary in South Carolina
South Carolina breaks burglary down into three different degrees, each with higher penalties than the previous:
- Third: Entering any sort of building unlawfully and with the intent to commit another crime; punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment for a first-time conviction.
- Second: Committing burglary by breaking into a nonresidential building with some sort of criminal intent, and the offender had a weapon or threatened someone during the burglary; could be penalized by up to 15 years in prison.
- First: Breaking into a dwelling, such as a home, apartment, or condo, in order to commit another crime while also possessing a weapon or threatening harm to a resident within the dwelling; sometimes called home invasion; life imprisonment is the maximum penalty for first degree burglary.
What is Criminal Trespassing?
If burglary charges can be brought against someone just for entering a property unlawfully, what is trespassing? The charge of trespass is essentially burglary but excluding the portion of wanting to commit another crime on or in the property. Someone who walks into their neighbor's backyard and refuses to leave has trespassed, but unless there is evidence to suggest they wanted to steal something, they have not committed burglary.
If you need more help interpreting South Carolina's burglary laws, you can turn to Masella Law Firm, P.A. for legal guidance and representation. Our Columbia criminal defense attorney has 20+ years of legal experience handling theft crime, property crime, and all manners of criminal cases. Call 803.938.4952 or contact us online if you need counsel.