Burglary refers to unauthorized or forceful entry into a home, building, or vehicle, “with intent to commit a felony, theft, or an assault.”
Other types of burglaries are:
- burglary of a habitation,
- burglary of vehicle and
- burglary of a coin-collection machine.
The penalties for home invasion in Texas (burglary of a habitation) are a sentence of between 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10, 000.
What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove to Convict You in Texas?
All types of burglaries have two things in common – unlawful entry and intent to commit a crime. Therefore, the prosecution must prove that you did in fact enter onto property, that such entry was unauthorized, and that you had the intention to commit a crime. If the prosecution fails to prove even one of these four elements of the charge, it could result in its dismissal.
This provides defendants with a variety of options on where to focus their defense.
For instance, they can claim actual innocence, which means that their defense is based on convincing the court that they never entered the building. A defendant only needs to create plausible doubt in a jury’s mind.
Similarly, the defense may also be based on convincing the court that even though the defendant entered the property they did so without the intention of committing a crime.
We’re going to focus on the latter.
How Texas Handles the Importance of “Intent” or a “Guilty Mind”
The argument for a lack of intent, when used effectively by an experienced Texas criminal attorney, can result in an acquittal. It focuses on the defendant’s mental state, or mens rea, at the time the crime was committed. It is all about differentiating between someone who “intended” to commit a crime and someone who never meant to do so.
For instance, say a person under known financial stress stole cash from a neighbor’s home. It would likely be fairly difficult to argue that they did not enter the property with the intent to do so.
However, what if the individual entered the home during a strong thunderstorm? Or if they believed someone was chasing them and they were in danger? Or, generally in the case of a minor, if they entered as a prank or on a dare.
In situations like those, a lack of intent would be easier to argue.
Even if a felony was committed, this is not enough for the prosecutor to prove someone guilty. They must prove that the defendant first formed the intent and then made the unauthorized entrance.
In most cases, the prosecution proves intent by obtaining a confession. A simple statement from the defendant like, “I broke into the house to steal money” proves intent.
This is why it is so important to understand and utilize your right to remain silent and to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Even then, remember that the prosecution will try to prove intent by using whatever circumstantial evidence is available.
For instance, they could talk about the manner the defendant used to gain access to the premises. Or, as in the situation above, point to financial troubles to make the argument that they needed money. When taken together, this type of evidence is used to gauge the state of the mind of the defendant.
Understanding how prosecutors attempt to prove intent is vital when attempting to build the strongest possible defense. When you know how they are going to attack you, it becomes easier to see what you can do to fight back.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.