How Do You Prove Intent in “Burglary of Habitation”?

How Do You Prove Intent in “Burglary of Habitation”? There are many different types of defenses when you’re charged with a crime in Central Texas. Our Killeen criminal defense lawyers assert your Constitutional defenses. We hold the government to its burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. One defense that we regularly examine is whether you violated the precise terms of the statute. In criminal cases, generally, any questions of interpretation or ambiguity should be decided in your favor. If the government cannot prove each element of the crime of which you are accused, as set forth in the state statute, the charges against you should be dismissed.

Texas burglary statutes

One type of statute that we read closely are the laws on burglary. There are different types of burglary charges in Texas. There is a general burglary charge that applies to places people inhabit, such as homes and buildings. There are also charges of burglary of coin-operated or coin collection machines, burglary of vehicles, and a related charge of criminal trespass.

The general crime of burglary is defined as follows:

(a)  A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, the person:

(1)  enters a habitation, or a building (or any portion of a building) not then open to the public, with intent to commit a felony, theft, or an assault;  or

(2)  remains concealed, with intent to commit a felony, theft, or an assault, in a building or habitation; or

(3)  enters a building or habitation and commits or attempts to commit a felony, theft, or an assault.

(b)  For purposes of this section, “enter” means to intrude:

(1)  any part of the body; or

(2)  any physical object connected with the body.

A burglary involving a habitation is generally a felony of the second degree. A burglary involving a habitation becomes a felony of the first degree if “any party to the offense entered the habitation with intent to commit a felony other than felony theft or committed or attempted to commit a felony other than felony theft.”

Habitation is defined as: “a structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons, and includes:

(A)  each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle;  and

(B)  each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.

“Building” means any enclosed structure intended for use or occupation as a habitation or for some purpose of trade, manufacture, ornament, or use.

A burglary of a habitation thus requires either some showing (when entering or concealed in a habitation) that the person either intended to commit a felony, theft, or an assault, or that they did commit a felony, theft, or assault.

How do prosecutors prove intent?

The burglary statues make clear that if you didn’t actually commit a felony, theft, or assault then the prosecution must prove your intent to commit these criminal offenses. If the prosecution cannot prove intent, then the charges against you should be dismissed.

We advise clients not to give statements to the police or prosecution because those statements can be used against you to show your intent. Without your testimony, the prosecution will need to rely on the statements of other witnesses, the physical evidence involved, and other factors.

The main way prosecutors try to prove intent, without the use of confession, involves the use of circumstantial (indirect) evidence. This prosecution argument essentially states that the circumstances indicate the accused did intend to commit a felony, theft, or assault. These circumstances could:

  • Asserting there was no other logical explanation for the defendant being in the home.
  • The entry occurred in the evening.
  • The defendant had the instrument of a crime in his/her possession, such as a knife or other tool to enter the home, or a bag to carry away any possessions.
  • The defendant’s dress could indicate an improper reason for being in the habitation.
  • The defendant and the owner or renter of the habitation did not know each other.
  • The defendant and the person with the legal right to be in the habitation knew each other and there was some history of an altercation or threats by the accused.
  • The condition of the habitation at the time of the arrest – for example, if the drawers were opened and all the contents of the drawers were on the floor – might indicate intent.

In some cases, a judge (usually over the defense lawyer’s objections) may allow evidence of a pattern of prior criminal misconduct, including prior burglary convictions, to be entered in the trial. The admissibility of this evidence could depend on the defendant’s statements in court. Evidence of a prior conviction might be permissible if, for example, a defendant claimed he or she accidentally fell asleep while in the habitation. Our Killeen attorneys work to our utmost to protect your rights.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, we assert every defense possible to help you regain your freedom after a burglary arrest. Proving intent is often a difficult task for the prosecution. We work to obtain a dismissal or acquittal based on the prosecution’s inability to prove the intent criteria set forth in Texas state burglary statutes. Prosecutors who know that their case for proving intent is weak are more likely to consider agreeing to a plea agreement, reducing the charges against you to a less serious offense.

To speak with a respected burglary defense lawyer, please use our contact form to schedule a consultation. Our defense lawyers represent anyone arrested for burglary in Killeen and Copperas Cove, as well as Temple, Belmont, and throughout Coryell and Bell Counties.