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Burglary in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 140.20) “Trespass-Notice Burglaries” explained by Criminal Defense Lawyer

One very common charge in New York for repeat shoplifters is Burglary in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 140.20). A person is guilty of this Class D felony when he knowingly or unlawfully enters or remains in a building with intent to commit a crime therein. Penal Law Section 140.00[5] provides the definition of “enter or remain unlawfully in a building”: A person “enters or remains unlawfully” in or upon premises when he is not licensed or privileged to do so. A person who, regardless of his intent, enters or remains in or upon premises which are at the time open to the public does so with license and privilege unless he defies a lawful order not to enter or remain, personally communicated to him by the owner of such premises or other authorized person.

The frequency of prosecutions for Burglary in the Third Degree can be attributed largely to the rise in the use of “trespass notices” by major retail chains like Duane Reade, Macy’s, J&R, etc. It is very common for shoplifters caught by store security at a major retail chain store to be forced to sign a “trespass notice,” meaning that they acknowledge that they no longer have the store’s permission to shop at the store (or at any other branches of the store chain, typically). (This happened to a woman at an Upper East Side Fairway grocery store in a well-publicized case recently.) These “trespass notices” basically allow store security guards to immediately arrest anyone that has received one the next time they step foot in the store. The applicable charge for merely stepping foot inside a store where one has been given a “trespass notice” is generally Criminal Trespass in the Fourth Degree [Penal Law Section 140.05], a violation. However, when someone is caught attempting to steal property from inside a store in which they already have a trespass notice, they are suddenly on the hook for a felony – Burglary in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 140.20). The penalties for that crime can be very serious, such as numerous years in upstate prison. Consider for a moment also that without that trespass notice, the defendant could typically only be charged with Petit Larceny (Penal Law Section 155.25), a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to just one year in jail, or Attempted Petit Larceny (Penal Law Section 110/155.25), a class B misdemeanor with only 90 days as the maximum.

These trespass notice burglary cases are routinely indicted because they are usually quite easy for a prosecutor to indict. First, the prosecutor can easily prove that the defendant was aware of the trespass notice with a “trespass notice affidavit” from a store security guard, in which the store security guard affirms that he in fact had previously informed the defendant that he/she was no longer allowed inside the store, and that she signed a document acknowledging this warning. Notably, photos of the defendant are usually attached to this trespass notice and kept on file by the store security. Thus, the only real remaining element for the prosecutor is typically “the intent to commit the crime therein” on the part of the defendant. If the prosecutor can show that the person in the store was concealing property, or making way for the exit without paying, or carrying “burglar’s tools” such as foil-lined bags designed to subvert security systems, then the prosecutor can generally indict – and convict – someone of this crime. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies that experienced criminal defense attorneys can use to prevent indictments and convictions.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a “trespass notice burglary” and charged with Burglary in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 140.20), you should strongly consider contacting the smart and aggressive defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. They apply their expertise gleaned from years as having worked as Manhattan prosecutors towards defending their clients or negotiating favorable plea bargains. Call them or email them anytime to set up an appointment or have them appear at any arraignment.