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What is Burglary in Houston, Texas?

Burglary is a crime in Houston that occurs when a person enters or remains in a building or habitation, without the owner’s consent and with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault. The crime also covers situations where the perpetrator attempts to or eventually commits the offenses mentioned while entering or remaining on the property. Burglary is typically classified as a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail, including a fine of up to $10,000. However, burglary of a habitation or home is classified as a second-degree felony attracting up to 20 years in prison. 

Under the Texas Penal Code, habitation includes any structure or even vehicle where people live or sleep in. Also, an accused can satisfy the element of entry without physically breaking into the structure. Any intrusion into the building, however slight, with a body part or physical object would amount to an entry. 

In 2016, the City of Houston recorded 18,488 burglary incidents, representing 18% of the city’s property crimes. Houston burglary numbers reduced to 15,788 in 2020, amounting to a 7% decrease from the previous year’s statistics. 

What is the Difference Between a Robbery and Burglary in Houston?

There are notable differences between the classification, elements, punishments, and enhancing factors of robbery and burglary in Houston.  

Under the Texas Penal Code, a robbery occurs when a person committing a theft intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury or a fear of it to another. Meanwhile, burglary does not require proof of theft, bodily injury, or a threat of it. Instead, the essential elements of burglary are that the offender enters or remains in a building or habitation with the intent to commit a serious offense, which may include theft. 

The distinctions between the elements of the crimes also influenced the classification of the crimes in Texas. As such, robbery is considered a crime against persons. In contrast, burglary is classified as a property crime usually committed to obtain money, property, or some other benefit. 

Finally, the respective punishment for the crimes also differs. At the minimum, burglary is charged as a state jail felony and is punishable by up to two years in a state jail and a fine reaching $10,000. However, robbery is classified as a second-degree felony that attracts two to 20 years in prison, including fines not more than $10,000. 

Nonetheless, both offenses have their respective aggravating factors that can enhance the penalties to higher degrees of a felony. A burglary will be charged as a first-degree felony if committed on a commercial building, within a habitation premise, containing controlled substances. On the other hand, a robbery charge may be elevated to a first-degree felony if the victim suffered a serious bodily injury, the accused used a deadly weapon, or the victim was elderly or disabled.

Houston experienced a total of 8,757  robberies in 2020. This number is 45% lower than the burglary numbers in the city within the same period. 

How to Beat a Burglary Charge in Houston

Being found guilty of a burglary in Houston can have devastating consequences, including incarceration, fines, restitution, and probation. Additionally, since the crime is considered a felony, the accused’s record will be permanently affected, making it difficult to obtain steady employment, secure student loans, or pursue certain career paths. However, by hiring a skilled attorney, defendants can improve their chances of dismissing or reducing a burglary charge. A criminal defense lawyer will usually examine the circumstances surrounding a case to determine the best possible defenses, which may include:

  • Lack of intent to commit a crime: For a burglary charge to succeed, the prosecution must prove the accused intended to commit a theft, felony, or assault.  As such, if, for example, theft is the underlying crime alleged, lack of possession of the item claimed to be stolen can negate intention to steal. 
  • Mistake: The defense may argue that the accused entered the wrong building under the influence of alcohol or drugs or that the offender was simply reckless and out of character and had no intention of committing burglary.
  • No entry: The defense may argue that the accused never entered the building or habitation in question. Merely walking around the outside of a building or residence is not sufficient to prove the element of entering. Likewise, it is a defense that the building that was entered was already open to the public. As such, the charge may fail or be diminished to a lesser offense. 
  • Consent of the owner: The defense may submit evidence to show that the defendant entered and remained on the property based on the owner or occupier’s consent. 

What are the Degrees of Burglary in Houston?

The applicable penalties to a burglary charge depend on the circumstances of the case, including the type of property entered and the crime the accused committed or intended to commit. 

  • State Jail Felony: This applies to a burglary involving a building that is not a habitation and an allegation of a felony, theft, or assault. The offense is categorized as a state jail felony, punishable with six months to two years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Third-Degree Felony: This applies to the entering of a commercial building with the intent to steal a controlled substance. Commercial buildings include pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, nursing facilities, and warehouses. The applicable punishments are imprisonment ranging from two years to ten years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. 
  • Second-Degree Felony: Attracts prison term of two to 20 years, a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both. It applies to a burglary involving a habitation and a felony theft or assault.
  • First-Degree Felony: Applies to a burglary involving a habitation and other felony offenses excluding theft, for example, felony sexual assault or kidnapping. The punishment under this classification includes five to 99 years in prison, which may include a fine of up to $10,000.

Residential Burglary vs Commercial Burglary in Houston

Under the Texas Penal Code, burglary can be committed on a residence or in a commercial building, with each occurrence having its respective penalties. The distinction lies in the use of the building or structure in question. As a result, residential burglary under Texas law refers to a burglary committed on a habitation where people live or sleep. On the other hand, commercial burglary can only be committed on a building intended for the purpose of trade. The penalties for burglary on a habitation are severe, and the offense is considered a second-degree felony that attracts up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, burglary of a building is typically classified as a state jail felony punishable with up to two years in jail. However, entering a commercial building with the intent to steal a controlled substance is a third-degree felony punishable with imprisonment of up to ten years, which may include hefty fines.