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Who is the “Owner” when Dealing with a Burglary Charge?

As everyone would probably agree, the legal system and the laws drafted and enacted by the Texas legislature can be exceptionally difficult to interpret and completely understand. It would be nearly impossible for anyone, including a seasoned attorney, to become entirely familiar with the ins and outs of every single area of law. In fact, that’s usually why attorneys carve out a few narrow categories of law to focus on and to practice. And, as a criminal defense attorney, one of the most surprising details that often arises from time to time is when one of my clients learns how the Texas Penal Code and various appellate courts have defined one simple, little term…owner.

One of the most frequent situations that this small, but significant detail comes into play is when I have a client who is facing Burglary charges. The Texas Penal Codes generally defines the criminal offense of Burglary as entering a habitation (residence) or building that isn’t open to the public with the intent to commit a Felony, Theft, or an Assault without the effective consent of the owner. But, who exactly is an owner?

Definition of Owner under the Texas Penal Code in Collin County, Texas

The Texas Penal Code typically defines an owner as a person who “has title to the property, possession of the property–whether lawful or not–or a greater right to possession of the property than the actor.” So, it is evident that the Texas Legislature recognizes the idea that there can be many different types of ownership interests other than traditional title ownership interests. As a result, the definition of owner that is provided by the Texas Penal Code is essentially designed to protect all types of ownership interests in property from criminal behavior.

A Common Example that Illustrates the “Owner” Dilemma Often Involved in Burglary Charges

In order to illustrate how this topic can get a little confusing, let’s look at a hypothetical example. Assume that you break up with your girlfriend, who happens to live with her parents in their home. Now, before the two of you broke up, her parents had totally adored you, and they had specifically told you numerous times that you were welcome in their home at any time. Well, after the breakup, you realize that you still have some clothes over at your (now) ex-girlfriend’s place. So, during the afternoon, while her parents are both at work, you happen to stop by to collect your belongings. However, your ex-girlfriend isn’t too happy to see you since you evidently broke her heart, so she says that you aren’t allowed to get your stuff. But, because you already know where everything is, you simply brush her aside, walk to the bedroom that the two of you practically used to share together, and you get your things while she continues to mercilessly criticize and berate you. With your blood boiling, you foolishly snatch her Beats headphones on your way out of the house to teach her a lesson since you know that she can’t seem to live without them.

Now, while you have most certainly committed a Theft, have you committed a Burglary? Remember, her parents own the home, and they did tell you in the past that you were always welcome inside their home. But, your ex-girlfriend is arguing that her parents were not home at the time that the incident occurred and that she specifically forbid you to enter the house.

What should You Do if You are Charged with Burglary in Collin County, Texas and it is Not Exactly Clear Who the Owner of the Burglarized Property is?

As the example above is meant to show, Burglary charges can often be quite complicated and involved. In addition, Burglary of a Habitation is a 2nd Degree Felony in Texas. Therefore, if you have been charged with Burglary, you should immediately seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to achieve the most favorable outcome available in your case. Looking back at the example above, a Court is likely to find that your ex-girlfriend had a “greater right of possession” to her parents’ home than you did since she actually lived there at the time of the incident. However, there are still some questions that need to be looked into. For example, did your ex-girlfriend inform you that you were not allowed to collect your belonging before or after you had entered the house? This could be a critical fact because it could very well mean the difference between a Burglary charge and a Criminal Trespass charge, which is only a Class B Misdemeanor. So, if you or a friend or family member has been charged with Burglary, I invite you to contact me for a free consultation at (972) 372-4054 to discuss your case.

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