Memphis Burglary Lawyer

In Memphis burglary is, relative to the state of Tennessee and the nation in general, a fairly common crime. Statistically speaking, you are twice as likely in Memphis to be a burglary victim as you are anywhere else in the state, and more than three times as likely as in the rest of the country as a whole.

To many people, the mental image of a burglar is someone who breaks into a home at night looking to steal things. Although this description is accurate in the legal sense, the act of burglary includes more than simply breaking and entering for purposes of theft. In this article we’ll show you how Tennessee law defines burglary, it’s legal and other consequences, and how to approach defending yourself if you are accused of burglary.

How burglary fits into Tennessee criminal laws

In Tennessee, crimes generally fall into one of two general types: crimes against persons, and crimes against property. Burglary comes under the property crimes category, even though in some of its more severe forms it can result in people being injured or even murdered. One of the distinctive characteristics of burglary is that it is often a “compound crime”: that is, a burglary typically involves the commission of two separate crimes together. Let’s take a look at the elements of the Tennessee burglary statute to see how it works:

  1. Entry. Burglary requires you to enter into a building or vehicle of another person.
  • Although burglary is a property crime, just going onto the land of another person without further entry into a building or vehicle does not constitute an entry for burglary purposes.
  • Otherwise the law defines “entry” broadly, so that placing any part of your body into the building or vehicle, or placing an object in the building or vehicle will suffice. If for example you stick only an arm or hand into an open car window, that is enough to satisfy the entry requirement. You do not have to actually climb all the way through an opening or go through a door to have “entered” for burglary purposes.
  • Similarly, if you are holding something in your hand and place that object into the building or vehicle without actually placing any part of your body into it, that also qualifies as an entry. This extends to remote control devices as well.
  • The kind of building you enter into can make a difference in the seriousness of the burglary charge. Entering an unoccupied office building or warehouse, for example, is not as grave an offense as entering an occupied residence would be.


  1. Without the effective consent of the owner. As a general rule, if you have the owner’s permission to enter the building or vehicle, then even if you meet the other requirements of the burglary statute you still will not be committing a burglary.
  • Many times burglaries take place when the owner of the building or vehicle is not present, so consent cannot be given.
  • Entering into a building or vehicle with the owner present inside, and without that person’s consent, is a more serious form of burglary. We will discuss the levels or “degrees” of burglary later in this article.
  • A variation can occur when entry is by permission, but then you hide on the premises with the intention of committing a crime later on (for example, going into a store and then concealing yourself there until after it closes with the intention of committing theft when the owners and employees have left). In this case, the lack of consent goes to your remaining on the premises when you would ordinarily not have been allowed to do so.


  1. Intention to commit a felony, theft or assault while in the building or vehicle. As we mentioned above, burglary is a compound crime. Unauthorized entry into someone else’s building or vehicle, for example, can be trespassing – which is a crime by itself. What converts the trespass into burglary is when you intend to commit or actually commit one or more additional crimes while you are on the premises.
  • Note that while often this secondary crime involves theft – remember, burglary is broadly treated as a crime against property – the second crime can involve an offense against a person in the building or vehicle. The degree of seriousness of the burglary will depend in part on the nature of the secondary crime.
  • Clearly, one defense against a charge of burglary would be to successfully argue that no secondary crime took place and you had no intention of committing one.

What are the consequences of a burglary conviction?

Burglary is defined in Tennessee penal code 39-14-402 and is similar to many other crimes in that it has multiple levels or “degrees” of seriousness, depending on the circumstances. We have already mentioned above how the type of building entered into can influence the severity of a burglary charge, and how your state of mind when you are in the building or vehicle – whether you intended to commit a felony, theft or assault while you were there – can influence whether you can be charged with burglary.

Tennessee law defines four types of of burglary:

  • Burglary involving entry into a non-residential building is a Class D felony, which can lead to a prison sentence of 2 to 12 years, and a possible fine of up to $5000.
  • Burglary involving entry into a vehicle constitutes a Class E felony, conviction for which can result in 1 to 6 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $3000.
  • Burglary of a habitation is a Class C felony, which carries a penalty of 3 to 15 years in prison, and a possible fine of up to $10,000. This is also known as “aggravated” burglary. For burglary purposes, Tennessee law defines a habitation to include structures designed or adapted for people to stay overnight in, as well as occupied, self-propelled vehicles designed or adapted for the same purpose. Aside from houses, apartments, hotels and motels, habitations can include trailers, tents, and even structures attached to habitations, such as garages.
  • The most serious degree of burglary is “especially aggravated burglary.” This occurs when the burglary takes place in either a building or a habitation, during the course of which a “victim” – which the law defines as any person lawfully on the premises – suffers a serious physical injury.One characteristic of this type of burglary is that the state must choose whether to prosecute for burglary or for the crime that accompanied the unlawful entry. In other words, if a burglary suspect entered a building without permission and raped a victim there, the prosecution cannot charge him with either rape or especially aggravated burglary, but not both.Especially aggravated burglary is a Class B felony, carrying a prison sentence of at least 8 years (up to a maximum of 30 years), with a possible additional fine of up to $25,000.

Keep in mind that the criminal law consequences for burglary are not all  that you can suffer from if you are convicted of this crime. A felony conviction can follow you for many years and negatively affect your life in several ways, such as your ability to land a job, to obtain credit, to find housing, and even to vote.

What are some legal defenses against a burglary charge?

The key to any criminal defense strategy is, “reasonable doubt.” If you are accused of a felony such as burglary, as long as you can place reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror as to whether you committed the crime, you can prevail against the charge. What is more, if you can place reasonable doubt in the minds of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors about whether they can carry their burden of proof against you in court, this could result in a reduction of charges against you or even their being dropped.

For a Memphis criminal defense attorney, avoiding a client’s conviction for burglary means looking for openings to inject reasonable doubt into the prosecution’s case. This requires a multifaceted approach, including:

  • Evaluating the strength of the prosecution’s physical evidence and witness testimony, as well as any exculpatory evidence and witnesses who can testify on the client’s behalf;
  • Matching the available facts against the elements of the law, contesting the reliability of the prosecution’s allegations, and in other ways identifying potential weaknesses in the state’s ability to prove its case;
  • Exploring subjective as well as objective defense strategies, such as those involving the state of mind or intent of the accused, and
  • Weaving all of the above into an effective strategy to seek a favorable outcome, such as a strong pretrial negotiation position or the most effective trial defense when it comes to seeking acquittal, reduced charges, or reduced penalties.

Contact an Experienced Memphis Burglary Defense Lawyer

Burglary is a compound, complex crime, and defending against a charge of burglary often requires a complex defense. Given the short term, long term, economic and social stakes that are on the line if you are accused of this crime, you would be well served to seek out a law firm that is experienced with defending clients in serious criminal matters.