Understanding Mississippi's Burglary & Robbery Laws

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The terms burglary and robbery traditionally conjure images of men in black ski masks tiptoeing through a living room with bags of loot in hand - but from a legal perspective, the terms encompass a great deal more. The laws defining burglary, robbery and related offenses can have broad applicability, making it all too easy for citizens to be charged. This is why it is critical you hire a criminal defense attorney when charged with burglary or robbery in Mississippi. William Wayne Housley, reputable criminal defense attorney, will help ensure your rights are protected from overzealous prosecutors and vague legal verbiage.

Burglary and robbery are distinct legal terms that classify different crimes. Robbery is defined as taking something by threat of force or violence in the presence of its rightful owner. By contrast, burglary occurs when an individual unlawfully enters a structure to commit theft and the owner is not present.

Burglary in Mississippi

Mississippi law defines burglary as the breaking and entering of a structure with the intent to commit a crime. It is irrelevant to the police whether the alleged burglar succeeds in making off with any property. The key component of this charge is the perpetrator's intent to commit a crime. This must be the motivating factor for entering the building. Intent and entrance are the two elements of the crime of burglary that the prosecutor must prove in order to secure a conviction.

Illegal Entry of A Structure

To satisfy this element of a burglary charge, the prosecutor must prove that the alleged burglar did not have permission to enter the building, home, or other applicable structure. It is still considered illegal entry if the person in question was in the building legally, but broke into a room or area that they were not permitted to enter.

For example, a babysitter may have the express permission of the parents to be inside the home, but it is still considered burglary is she tampers with the lock of the office door and pockets money and valuables on the mother's desk. In this case, the "structure" is the locked office, rather than the home itself, which the babysitter technically had legal permission to be in.

Intent to Commit Theft or Felony

The second element of a burglary charge relates to the perpetrator's intent upon illegally entering a building. The prosecutor must show that the alleged burglar intended to commit a crime when he or she entered the building, whether it be theft or a different offense. The legal reasoning behind this element of burglary is to protect those who illegally enter a building by accident or with no criminal intent. It is important to make a legal distinction between those who are only guilty of trespass and those who intended to commit theft. It does not matter if the alleged burglar successfully committed theft, it matters only if he or she intended to do so. Criminal intent is an abstract that may be difficult for the prosecutor to prove.

Possession of Burglary Tools

Mississippi is one of many states that criminalizes the possession of tools that could be used to commit burglary or trespass. If a person is found in possession of an object that is "adapted, designed or commonly used" to force entry through doors or vaults, he or she may be charged with a misdemeanor (or a felony, in a rare cases, dependent on the circumstances). Per Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-35, the maximum penalty for this offense is up to 1 year in jail or up to 5 years in prison.

Examples of burglary tools include:

  • explosives
  • bolt cutters
  • lock picks
  • master keys
  • a tool capable of burning through steel or concrete
  • crowbar.

Charging a citizen with possession of a burglary tool can be problematic from a practical and constitutional standpoint. Certain every day items, such as a hammer, screwdriver or crowbar, could feasibly be used to force entry for the purposes of burglary; this does not mean that every person in possession of such a tool is guilty of this offense. A innocent person may simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time in possession of potential burglary tool. The situation could be misconstrued by the police. Therefore, possession of such a tool must be proven in conjunction with criminal intent, after all, it is not a standalone crime to be in possession of a crowbar or blowtorch.

Some have argued that laws criminalizing the possession of burglary tools are too vague. Overbroad laws are constitutionally prohibited. At present, the laws criminalizing possession of burglary tools stand in Mississippi.

Penalties for Burglary in Mississippi

Burglary of Dwelling

Felony, 3 to 25 Years in Penitentiary

Burglary of Church

Felony, Up to 14 Years in Penitentiary

Burglary of Non-Dwelling or Auto

Felony, Up to 7 Years in Penitentiary

Burglary with Explosives

Felony, 5 to 40 Years in Penitentiary

Robbery in Mississippi

The chief distinction between robbery and burglary is the presence of the victim. To be charged with robbery, the perpetrator must commit theft by use of intimidation, force or threats. This cannot occur if the victim is not present at the scene. Per MS Code § 97-3-75 (2013), this is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Robbery in the absence of a threat, weapon, or force is charged as 'simple robbery,' while robbery committed with a weapon is charged as the more serious 'armed robbery.'

Armed Robbery

Penalties for robbery are severely enhanced if the prosecution can prove the perpetrator was armed. It is irrelevant whether the firearm was actually loaded. (One can even be convicted of armed robbery if a fake or toy gun was used.) Those convicted of armed robbery, depending on the severity of the crime, could face life in prison. This offense occurs most commonly in banks, retail stores, homes, gas stations or any setting where the perpetrator can "hold up" a stranger. The court may still consider a perpetrator "armed" if a firearm was not the weapon of choice.

Examples of other weapons include:

  • A knife
  • BB gun
  • Fake gun
  • Sharp object such as broken glass or any type of blade
  • An ax.

To note, the implication of a weapon is also an example of a weapon for the purpose of armed robbery. If a person so much as implies that he or she is armed, he or she can be charged with armed robbery.

Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney

When you have been charged with burglary or robbery in Mississippi, it is imperative that you immediately secure a criminal defense attorney. Public defenders cannot devote adequate time and energy to your case, nor do they bring the same experience and passion to the table. You could be facing life in prison, depending on the circumstances of your case. With your freedom at stake, this is no time to leave the situation to chance by using a public defender or hiring an inexperienced attorney.

With over 20 years of legal experience, criminal defense attorney William Housley is prepared to explore every legal avenue to fight your charges. The sooner you hire an attorney, the greater your odds of beating the charges. Contact William Housley immediately to discuss the specifics of your case or call 662-884-5635.

The Right Lawyer to Have on Your Side

William Housley has an in-depth understanding of the complex legal practices in Mississippi. With unmatched skill, he will investigate and represent your case - whether it is in the realm of criminal law, family law or DUI defense.

Contact An Experienced Tupelo Lawyer

Northern Mississippians accused of crimes or going through divorces will benefit from the unmatched skill of attorney William Housley. Practicing in the realms of criminal law, DUI defense, and family law, Mr. Housley is a multifaceted legal representative with wide-reaching expertise.

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