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State Cannot Charge Someone With Burglary if They Have a Sufficient Interest in the Property

In a recent criminal case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling and other charges after the victim reported she was sleeping in an apartment and the defendant broke in and assaulted her. The victim had been staying at the apartment with a friend. The defendant had also been staying at the apartment as he and his girlfriend’s names were on the lease. The defendant and his girlfriend were in the process of moving out, but they still had the keys and the lease had not expired.

In order to convict a person of burglary, the state must prove the defendant does not own or have rightful possession of the property. However, where both the defendant and victim had a possessory interest in the property, the state must prove the victim’s possessory interest was greater than the defendant’s possessory interest. If their possessory interests are equal, the crime of burglary is not committed. Some of the factors a court will look at include: whose name(s) is on the lease, who is staying where, did either person already move out or abandon the property, who is paying the bills?

In this case, the defendant was in the process of moving out, but had not yet done so. He was on the lease and still paying some of the bills. He had a key to the property. The victim was just a guest at the property, her name was not on the lease and she was not paying the bills. As a result, the defendant had a greater possessory interest in the property and could not be convicted of burglary for entering the property to commit a crime.