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Kevin O'Flaherty

Burglary is a common crime in Iowa. When most people think of burglary, the probably think of someone sneaking into a building at nighttime to steel from the property. While this would probably constitute burglary, the legal definition is broader.  

In this article, we will discuss: 

  • The elements of the crime of burglary; 
  • Intent in the crime of burglary; 
  • What is an occupied structure?; 
  • The degrees of burglary; 
  • The crime of attempted burglary; 
  • The crime of possession of burglar’s tools 

The Elements of Burglary in Iowa 

In Iowa, burglary is: 

  • Any person, having an intent to commit a felony, assault or theft therein; 
  • Who, having no right, license, or privilege to do so, 
  • Enters an occupied structure 
  • Such occupied structure not being open to the public; OR who remains therein after it is closed to the public or after the person’s right, license or privilege has expired; 
  • Or any person having such intent who breaks an occupied structure 
  • Commits burglary.  

Of note, the intention to commit a felony does not require that it is a property crime. Under the law, any felony would constitute this element.  

Intent Required in the Crime of Burglary 

Also, the Court will consider the intent factor at the time of entering the structure. Many cases hinge on the government being able to prove this intent. If a defendant could prove that they did not break into the home with the intent to commit a felony, the defendant would not be found guilty of burglary. Courts infer intent from the surrounding circumstances. They will intend the natural and probable consequences that usually follow from his or her act. So, where someone was screaming and broke down a door in the middle of the night, it follows the jury would infer a defendant was intending to commit a felony or assault. In Iowa, the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is satisfied if it is more likely than not that the inference of intent is true.  

If the person could prove they actually did have a right, license, or privilege to be in the structure, they will also not be found guilty. 

What is an “occupied structure” under Iowa Law? 

An “occupied structure” under Iowa law is a “building, structure, appurtenances to buildings and structures, land, water or air vehicle, or similar place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or occupied by persons for the purpose of carrying on business or other activity therein, or for the storage or safekeeping of anything of value.” It does not matter whether someone is actually present in the structure. So, the structure cannot be abandoned, and must be used for one of the above purposes. Things like chests, boxes, and safes do not consider structures under this section.  

Sometimes there is a question of whether something as an “appurtenance” to the structure. An appurtenance is “That which belongs to something else; an adjunct; an appendage. Something annexed to another thing more worthy as a principal, and which passes as incident to it.” An appurtenance, then, is not the actual structure, but is closely related to it. Examples may be a barn detached from a home or a fenced in enclosure behind an auto parts store. Provided the court finds the place is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons, or for carrying on a business or other activity, this could be a place a burglary could take place.  

What are the degrees of burglary in Iowa? 

In Iowa, there are three degrees of burglary. 

First Degree Burglary requires: 

  • If, while perpetrating the burglary in or upon an occupied structure with one or more persons present, they: 
  • Have in possession an explosive or incendiary device or material 
  • Have in possession a dangerous weapon 
  • The person intentionally or recklessly inflicts bodily injury on any person 
  • The person performs or participates in a sex act with any person which would constitute sexual abuse. 

First Degree burglary is a class “B” felony. It is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, which a person will have to complete 70% of on a mandatory basis.  

Second Degree Burglary requires a person to commit burglary while: 

  • Perpetrating a burglary in or upon an occupied structure in which no persons are present, the person has possession of an explosive or incendiary device or material, or a dangerous weapon OR bodily injury results to any person.  
  • Perpetrating a burglary in or upon an occupied structure in which one or more persons are present, the person does not have possession of an explosive or incendiary device or material, nor a dangerous weapon, and no bodily injury is caused to any person. 

Second Degree Burglary is a class “C” felony,  punishable up to 10 years, and a fine up to $13,660 with a 15% surcharge.  

Third Degree Burglary is all other burglaries, which are class D felonies. Class D felonies are punishable up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,245 fine. An exception is a burglary of a motor vehicle or vessel, which is an aggravated misdemeanor.  

What is the crime of attempted burglary? 

Attempted burglary also has three degrees, reflecting the attempt to do any of the above. An attempted first degree burglary is a class “C” felony, an attempted second degree burglary is a class “D” felony, and attempted burglary in the third degree is an aggravated misdemeanor (except the vehicles and vessels exception, which are serious misdemeanors).  

What is the crime of “possession of burglar’s tools?” 

A separate crime exists for possession of burglar’s tools, an aggravated misdemeanor. Burglar’s tools include keys, tools, instruments, explosive devices, or other device with intent to use it in the perpetration of a burglary.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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