Burglary, larceny, and robbery are different crimes in Massachusetts, and if you are charged with one of these crimes, you will need to be advised and represented by the right Massachusetts criminal defense attorney.

According to the FBI, more than 1.1 million burglaries were reported in the United States in 2019. What constitutes burglary in Massachusetts? If you are convicted of burglary, what penalties may be imposed?

If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn more about your rights if you are charged with burglary or with any other crime in this state.

What Constitutes Burglary in Massachusetts?

The definition of burglary in Massachusetts includes three “elements” of the crime. In Massachusetts, a burglary happens when someone (1) breaks and enters into a dwelling (2) at night (3) with the intent to commit a felony.

This definition makes Massachusetts one of the few states that have retained this older definition of burglary. In most states today, illegally entering any type of structure with the intent to commit any kind of crime – day or night – is considered burglary.

And to convict you of burglary in this state, a prosecutor must prove all three elements of a burglary charge beyond a reasonable doubt – that you broke into and entered a dwelling, at night, with the intent to commit a felony.

But without proof beyond a reasonable doubt of all three elements of a burglary charge, a Massachusetts prosecutor may be able to win a conviction against you for a charge like trespassing or attempted burglary, but not for burglary.

There are related charges, like breaking and entering, which does not require the targeted structure to be a dwelling. Breaking and entering applies to any building, ship, vessel, vehicle, or to anyone who tries to break into a safe or other depositor, day or night.

How is a “Dwelling” Defined?

Under Massachusetts law, a dwelling is anywhere people may stay overnight – a house, condo, apartment, hotel or motel room, and even a boat or a tent. The term “dwelling” also includes structures such as garages or barns that are clearly adjacent to or part of a dwelling.

Unlike the other states, burglary in Massachusetts can only occur at night. An unlawful entry in the daytime might be charged as criminal trespassing.

Finally, the state must prove that a defendant meant to commit a felony inside the dwelling and entered it for that reason. A burglary charge does not require that a defendant attempted or completed the intended felony. Unauthorized entry at night with criminal intent is all that is required.

What are the Penalties for Burglary Convictions?

Massachusetts burglary charges, and the penalties for burglary convictions, depend on the details of the alleged burglary and the defendant’s criminal history. The questions that must be considered in a burglary case include:

  • What time of day did the alleged incident occur?
  • Was the dwelling occupied when the alleged incident occurred?
  • Was anyone inside the dwelling injured?
  • If a theft or robbery was committed, what was the value of the stolen items?

Depending on the details of the case, the sentence for a burglary conviction can range from a short probation term to a lengthy prison sentence. If a burglar breaks into and enters a dwelling and assaults someone within the dwelling, that offender could potentially serve life in prison.

It is also against the law in Massachusetts to possess or make burglar’s tools that are intended for use in a burglary. In some cases, a conviction for the possession of burglary tools can land a defendant in prison for up to ten years.

How is Trespassing Handled in Massachusetts?

A criminal trespass happens in this state when someone, at any time of day, intentionally enters a private structure or comes onto private property without permission or consent. No intent to commit a second crime is required for a trespass charge – the trespass itself is the violation.

Trespassing requires either a posted no trespassing sign or the person’s refusal to leave after being told to do so by the owner. There are also cases where, even with no sign, it can be trespassing if you enter a property or structure through or over a locked gate or door.

A conviction for criminal trespassing in Massachusetts may be penalized with up to thirty days in jail and/or a fine of up to $100.

Massachusetts law specifically protects “holdover tenants” from trespass charges. When someone has rented or leased a residence and remains after the tenancy period has ended, landlords may remove those persons from the premises only through civil eviction proceedings.

How is Home Invasion Handled in Massachusetts?

To convict a defendant of home invasion, a Massachusetts prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

The defendant entered a dwelling while armed with a dangerous weapon.

The defendant knew or should have known the premises were occupied, or the defendant stayed upon learning the premises were occupied.

The defendant used force or threatened the occupants with the use of force, or the defendant intentionally injured someone on the premises.

Home invasion, like burglary, requires the nighttime entry of a dwelling with the intent to commit a felony, but in a home invasion, the defendant knew or should have known someone was at home, used force or threatened to use force, all while armed with a dangerous weapon.

In Massachusetts, a conviction for home invasion is punishable with a minimum mandatory sentence of twenty years and the possibility of life in prison.

How Will Your Attorney Defend You?

If you are charged with burglary, the possession of burglary tools, home invasion, or trespassing, you must be defended by the right Massachusetts burglary attorney.

If you are not guilty, your attorney will seek to have the case dismissed. If your case cannot be dismissed, you have the right to a jury trial, where your attorney will explain to the jurors why they should find you not guilty.

However, if the prosecution’s case against you is strong and a conviction is certain, your attorney instead may be able to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain on your behalf. In the typical plea bargain, a defendant could plead guilty to a lesser charge, and in return, receives a reduced sentence.

If You Are Placed Under Arrest

If you are placed under arrest and charged with any crime, you have the right to remain silent. Avoid incriminating yourself by exercising that right. Politely say to the police something like, “I don’t want to talk with you, but I want to speak with a lawyer.”

If you are charged with burglary or a related crime, you must reach out as quickly as possible to the right Massachusetts criminal defense attorney – an attorney who will protect your rights, get to the truth about what happened, and bring your case to its best possible outcome.