Fight Burglary Charges in Colorado

November 7, 2022 | Bill Henry

If you’re convicted of burglary in Colorado, you face years in prison and exorbitant fines. Don’t take the risk of representing yourself. Read this article to learn more about fighting burglary charges in Colorado.

Bottom Line

You improve your chances of defeating burglary charges when you have an experienced criminal defense attorney.

In This Article

  1. What is Burglary?
  2. First-Degree Burglary
  3. Second-Degree Burglary
  4. Third-Degree Burglary
  5. Burglary Involving Theft of a Controlled Substance
  6. Penalties for Burglary Charges in Colorado
  7. How Colorado Prosecutors Prove Burglary Charges
  8. Defenses to Burglary Charges in Colorado
  9. Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

burglary charges

What is Burglary?

Colorado law defines burglary as when someone “knowingly breaks an entrance into, or enters, or remains unlawfully in any of the following:

  • a building,
  • an occupied structure,
  • vault, safe, cash register, coin vending machine, product dispenser, money depository, safety deposit box, coin telephone, coin box, or other apparatus or equipment whether or not coin operated.

with intent to commit therein a crime against a person or property. Colo. Revised Statutes §§ 18-4-202, 18-4-203, 18-4-204

You are guilty of burglary the minute you knowingly and illegally enter an occupied structure — or illegally remain there after a lawful or unlawful entry — with the intent to commit a crime against a person or property.

Whether you actually commit the intended crime is irrelevant. For example, you can still face burglary charges if you break into a home to steal money from a safe but never open the safe.

If you were lawfully on or in the building or structure, you are not guilty of burglary — even if you came onto the property intending to commit a crime. Let’s say you’re a plumber who’s hired to fix someone’s toilet. While you’re at the home, you steal some jewelry. Because you were legally in the home, you committed theft, not burglary.

Burglary charges depend on the severity of the crime. Let’s look at how Colorado law breaks down burglary charges.

First-Degree Burglary

You could face first-degree burglary charges if, in the course of burglarizing an occupied building:

  • you assault or menace someone
  • you or an accomplice are armed with explosives, or
  • you or an accomplice use a deadly weapon or possess and threaten to use a deadly weapon. C.R.S. 18-4-202

First-degree burglary is a class 3 felony. A conviction could mean four to 12 years in prison and a maximum $750,000 fine. There is an exception if the property involved is a controlled substance, which we’ll discuss later in the article.

Second-Degree Burglary

Second-degree burglary is a class 4 felony in most cases. However, it is a class 3 felony under the following circumstances:

  1. It is a burglary of a dwelling.
  2. The goal is to steal a controlled substance lawfully kept within any building or occupied structure.
  3. The objective is the theft of one or more firearms or ammunition. C.R.S. § 18-4-203

Not all second-degree burglary charges may be felonies, however. Second-degree burglary can also be charged as a class 2 misdemeanor if you knowingly violated a written notice by a retailer or an order by a court of lawful jurisdiction specifically restraining a person from entering a particular retail location during hours when the retail store is open to the public. C.R.S. § 18-4-203

Third-Degree Burglary

You can be charged with third-degree burglary if you enter or break into any vault, safe, cash register, coin vending machine, product dispenser, money depository, safety deposit box, coin telephone, coin box, or other apparatus or equipment with the intent to commit a crime. C.R.S. § 18-4-204

Generally, third-degree burglary is a Class 2 misdemeanor, meaning that if you are convicted, you may face up to 120 days in jail and/or up to a $750 fine. However, third-degree burglary is a Class 1 misdemeanor if the objective of the burglary is the theft of a controlled substance or substances. If convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor, you may face up to 364 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Burglary Involving Theft of a Controlled Substance

The severity of your burglary charges increases if your objective is to steal a controlled substance. For example, the involvement of controlled substances from a pharmacy —or any other place with lawful possession—makes first-degree burglary a class 2 felony. This means you face up to a 24-year state prison sentence and a maximum $1 million fine if you’re convicted.

Penalties for Burglary Charges in Colorado

Burglary is a felony or misdemeanor in Colorado. Penalties range from just fines to 24 years in prison depending on:

  • the degree of the burglary charges
  • the crime you committed or intended to commit
  • whether you used or threatened to use a deadly weapon
  • prior criminal history

How Colorado Prosecutors Prove Burglary Charges

Prosecutors do not necessarily need direct evidence of your crime to support a burglary conviction. Colorado criminal courts accept circumstantial evidence alone if the prosecution demonstrates that:

  • a burglary was committed,
  • goods were stolen as part of the burglary, and
  • the stolen items were found in your possession shortly thereafter. People v. McClendon, 188 Colo. 140, 142, 533 P.2d 923, 924 (1975)

In the above-cited case, a Denver man returned from a trip to find that his home had been burglarized. The homeowner called the local police and reported numerous household items missing. Two days later, police officers saw Phillip McClendon and another man carrying various household goods down an alley.

Police arrested McClendon and charged him with second-degree burglary. A Denver jury subsequently convicted him.

McClendon appealed his conviction all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, but the court found that:

“There is more than a possibility, and, in fact, a high probability, that the defendant, who was in recent possession of property stolen from Daniel’s residence, and who was arrested near the scene of the burglary shortly after the burglary occurred, entered Daniel’s house with the intent to commit a crime.” People v. McClendon, 188 Colo. 140, 143-44, 533 P.2d 923, 925 (1975)

Your Intent Matters

In the early ’70s, a secretary at a Fort Collins law firm briefly left her office and returned to find Edward Hutton standing by her desk. Hutton told the woman that he had been looking for the key to the men’s restroom. After he left, the woman noticed her billfold was missing from her purse.

Police arrested Hutton later that day. He maintained during the trial that he had entered the woman’s office with the intent of finding the men’s restroom key. Stealing her billfold had merely been a crime of opportunity.

Regardless, a Larimer County jury convicted Hutton of second-degree burglary. He appealed, and the case eventually reached the Colorado Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court found that Hutton “could have been telling the truth that he entered the office with the intent to find the key to the men’s room, and concluded to commit the theft after entering the room and seeing the purse.” Hutton v. People, 177 Colo. 448, 450, 494 P.2d 822, 823 (1972)

The court concluded the evidence was sufficient to convict Hutton of theft, but not burglary. Hutton’s sentence was vacated.

Defenses to Burglary Charges in Colorado

Some of the most common defenses to Colorado burglary charges include:

  • you were lawfully on the property.
  • you didn’t know you were illegally on the property.
  • you didn’t intend to commit a crime when you entered the property.
  • a witness or victim misidentified you.
  • you did not commit a crime or were otherwise justified in an action or actions taken.

Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

It’s a major mistake not to hire a criminal defense attorney when you face burglary charges. The criminal defense attorneys at Robinson & Henry have an immense amount of experience handling burglary cases and will walk beside you as you navigate the criminal justice system. Call 303-688-0944 today to begin your free case assessment.

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