This week we learned about the elements of property crimes that the prosecutor must prove at trial. Based on the following fact patterns what would you charge the offender with if you were the...

This week we learned about the elements of property crimes that the prosecutor must prove at trial. Based on the following fact patterns what would you charge the offender with if you were the prosecutor?

A man goes out with his friends drinking for his birthday at a campground. The party gets a little wild as the result of alcohol consumption.  The man becomes sick during the event due to his level of intoxication and lays down out of the view of his friends.  Later that evening his friends drive off in their vehicles and leave him behind. He is highly intoxicated and becomes very cold as a result of the night air.

He wanders up to the residential community adjacent to the campground and starts to pull on doors attempting to find a place to warm up and sleep off his intoxication (at this point it is about 3:00 am). The man is aware that the homes he is attempting to enter do not belong to him.  He finds a sliding glass door unlocked and goes inside a house.  Once inside he finds a blanket and falls asleep on the living room couch.   

In the morning, he wakes up and tries to call his friends on his cellular phone to come pick him up.  The homeowner, who is getting ready for work, hears him talking in the living room area. She finds him in the living room and tells him to stay there until the police arrive.  The man waits for the police.  He does not try to run, take property, or injure the home owner. (These facts are similar to an actual call that I received as a police officer.)



Part 2 - Would your answer change if the offender had entered the home with the intent to take the lady's purse containing $1,000 in cash and left the home with the purse?  Why or why not?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first issue for both cases is that laws and terminology vary from state to state. Thus the answer will vary depending on the state in which it occurred. 

Case 1: The law distinguishes between trespass and burglary. To prosecute the man for home invasion or residential burglary, one would require evidence that the man had entered the home with the intent to commit burglary. Not only is there no evidence of intent of burglary but no burglary has occurred. Although there is evidence of trespassing, as no harm or intent to harm is evident, the man did not commit the crime of home invasion. Although there is an element of unlawful entry, there is not solid evidence for a charge of forced entry. Thus this seems a fairly straightforward case of trespass. Given the man's cooperation with the police the next morning, this might be a case where mediation or arbitration would be more appropriate than traditional litigation.

Case 2: In the second case, if one can prove that the man entered the home with the intent to steal money, then he can be prosecuted for home invasion burglary. If one cannot prove intent, but only the act of taking the money, the charge would be the lesser one of theft. The main issue here is ability to prove intent beyond reasonable doubt. If the man broke into the house, took the money, and left, one would have a good case for home invasion burglary, the more serious charge. On the other hand, if the man broke in, passed out, slept for several hours, and then spotted the purse on a table when he woke up, one would have weaker evidence of intent, and might be advised to settle for the lesser charges of trespassing and theft.