Burglary of a Motor Vehicle is Not the Same as Breaking Into a TX Home

November 11, 2023 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Burglary of a Motor Vehicle is Not the Same as Breaking Into a TX Home

Motor vehicles are often tempting targets for break-ins. They're frequently left unattended and easy to enter, and they typically contain valuables such as navigation and audio equipment that are easily viewed through a car window.

If you break into a motor vehicle, you might find yourself facing Texas burglary of a motor vehicle charges. It's important to note that burglary of a motor vehicle is not the same as breaking into a Texas home. The penalties for breaking into a car are actually different from what you'd face for breaking into a home, although they're still quite serious.

To clarify this important difference, we've put together a guide covering Texas burglary of motor vehicle, and how these differ from other burglary charges. If you face charges of burglary of a vehicle in Texas, contact an experienced Fort Worth criminal defense attorney right away.

Texas Burglary vs. Burglary of a Motor Vehicle

Burglary of a Motor Vehicle is Not the Same as Breaking Into a TX Home

So, what is the difference between a Texas burglary and burglary of a motor vehicle? Both involve breaking and entering, but the sentencing and penalties are quite different.

In simple terms, Texas burglary is described as:

  • Entering a habitation or building (or any portion thereof) without the owner or occupant’s consent and with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault

Contrastingly, Texas burglary of a motor vehicle is described as:

  • Breaking into or entering a motor vehicle without the owner or vehicle operator’s consent and with the intent to commit a felony or theft

However, if the vehicle is set up for overnight occupancy (for example, an RV or camper), this would be considered burglary rather than burglary of a motor vehicle.

In Texas, burglary of a home or building is at minimum a state jail felony. The charge is upgraded to a first- or second-degree felony when the building is a dwelling and the offender has the intent to commit a felony other than theft, for example, an assault on the dwelling’s occupant.

However, burglary of a motor vehicle is a misdemeanor. There are two exceptions. When you have two or more prior convictions for this offense or when the vehicle was broken into is a railcar, law enforcement may charge the accused with a state jail felony instead.

Texas Burglary of a Motor Vehicle

Texas Burglary of a Motor Vehicle

In Texas, an individual commits burglary of a motor vehicle if he or she, without the owner’s consent, breaks into a vehicle or a part of a vehicle with the intent to commit theft or a different felony-level offense. Here are some important aspects to consider regarding the burglary of a vehicle in Texas.

You Can Be Charged without Breaking a Window or Picking a Lock

You need not physically break a window or pick a lock to be charged with this offense. Even when the car is unlocked, any unauthorized entry with the intent to commit a theft or felony is considered a crime, burglary of a motor vehicle.

You Can Be Charged without Fully Entering the Car

You do not need to fully enter the vehicle. Entering with any part of your body or physical extension of your body suffices. For example, if you reach into an open window with your arm, or put a coat hanger, crowbar, or another physical object inside the vehicle in an attempt to commit a crime, you will be charged with burglary of a motor vehicle.

You Can Be Charged without Actually Stealing Anything at All

Even if your attempt to break into the vehicle is not successful, you will still be charged, so long as the prosecution can prove your intent to commit a crime without a reasonable doubt.

For example, if you are attempting to pick a lock and are apprehended by a police officer during this process, you will most likely be charged with burglary of a motor vehicle unless you have a good reason to be doing so, for example locking your keys in your own car.

Sentencing and Penalties for Burglary of a Motor Vehicle in Texas

Fort Worth Burglary of a Motor Vehicle

If convicted of burglary of a motor vehicle, you will face steep criminal fines and penalties. Additionally, you will be left with a criminal record that will compromise many aspects of your life for years to come.

According to the Texas penal code, sentencing depends on whether you have prior convictions for burglary of a motor vehicle:

  • First offense: Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $4,000 fine
  • Second offense: Class A misdemeanor punishable by a minimum jail term of six months and up to one year in jail, and/or a $4,000 fine
  • Third or subsequent offense: State jail felony punishable by a minimum of six months in jail and up to two years, and/or a $10,000 fine

Like other property crimes, you will also be ordered to pay the victim restitution. This includes vehicle repair costs if any, and the value of the item(s) stolen or attempted to be stolen.

For Texas burglary charges, the type of structure entered and the offender’s intent are both of utmost importance. Regardless of the level of charges you are facing, though, all burglary charges can end in serious penalties and should be met with an aggressive defense.

What Should I Do If Arrested for Burglary of a Motor Vehicle in Texas?

If you are arrested for burglary of a motor vehicle in Texas, it's important to remain calm and not argue or fight with officers during the arrest or booking process. Doing so can result in additional charges. When they arrested you, officers should have read your Miranda rights, which give you the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Be sure to invoke those rights and don't say or do anything that prosecutors could you against you in court.

The most important step you can take after being arrested for burglary of a vehicle is to contact an attorney. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you, gather evidence and information to prepare an effective defense, and advocate for you throughout the criminal justice process.

You must attend all court proceedings, as failure to do so can result in additional charges against you.

What Are Some Defense Strategies for Burglary of a Vehicle?

Defense strategies for burglary of a vehicle can vary based on the specific details of the case. You must consult a criminal defense attorney to determine the most appropriate strategy for your situation. Some common defense strategies your attorney can explore that may apply to your case include:

  • Lack of Intent: One key element in a burglary charge is intent. If your lawyer can show that you did not have the intent to commit theft or another felony when entering the vehicle, it may be a defense.
  • No Unlawful Entry: Your attorney can challenge whether the entry into the vehicle was unlawful. If there is evidence that you had permission to enter the vehicle or that the entry was not forced, it may impact the burglary charge.
  • Insufficient Evidence: Your lawyer may challenge the prosecution's evidence. If there is insufficient evidence to prove that you committed the burglary, your attorney may argue for a dismissal or reduction of charges.
  • Fourth Amendment Violations: If law enforcement violated your Fourth Amendment rights during the search or arrest, you may be grounds for a defense. This could include challenging the legality of the search and seizure.
  • Alibi: If you have a credible alibi that places you at a different location at the time of the alleged burglary, it can be a powerful defense.
  • Duress or Coercion: If your attorney can demonstrate that you were forced to commit the burglary under duress or coercion, it may be a viable defense.
  • Mistaken Identity: If there is doubt about your identity as the person who committed the alleged burglary, a mistaken identity defense may be applicable.
  • Consent: If you had the owner's consent or permission to enter the vehicle, you shouldn't face burglary charges.

It's crucial to work closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate the details of your case and determine the most effective defense strategy. Legal representation can help identify weaknesses in the prosecution's case, challenge evidence, and protect your rights throughout the legal process.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you're facing a burglary of a motor vehicle charge in Fort Worth or any of the surrounding areas of Tarrant County and North Texas, reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer at Fulgham Law Firm immediately. Our team of attorneys has more than 80 years of collective criminal law experience, including serving as criminal prosecutors. We will review your case at no cost and explore defense options with you that will give you the best chance of obtaining a favorable outcome. Contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author:

Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.

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