People who are unfamiliar with legal terms can get them confused. For instance, imagine coming home from a night out to discover a stranger on your property. You might immediately assume this person is a “burglar,” because they invaded your land. However, it may be more accurate to describe them as a “trespasser.”

In this article, we explore the legal distinction between the crimes of burglary and trespassing. This information can help if you are accused of either crime.

Defining Trespassing in Tennessee

The Tennessee Code Annotated defines trespassing as intentionally entering onto another person's land without a lawful purpose or the owner's consent.

Defining Burglary in Tennessee

Burglary in Tennessee is defined as the unlawful breaking and entering of a building with the intent to commit a felony or theft. The accused doesn’t need to follow through with the felon or theft. The mere intent to do so is sufficient to call the offense a burglary.

You could be accused of burglary for entering any structure, whether it be a home, business, or any other type of building.

Trespassing Penalties in Tennessee

The state charges an alleged trespasser with a Class C misdemeanor, which can result in a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days. Penalties can be more severe if the trespasser causes damage to the property or uses force to enter.

Burglary Penalties in Tennessee

Generally, burglary is charged as a felony offense in the state. If convicted, the offender may face a sentence of up to $15,000 in fines and 8 – 30 years of imprisonment. Additionally, the offender may also be required to pay restitution to the victim for any damages or losses.

The penalties increase if the burglary involves aggravating factors. These include the use of a weapon or prior criminal convictions. Harsher punishments include longer prison sentences and higher fines.

Defenses Against Trespassing Allegations


If you have permission from the property owner or occupant to enter or remain on the property, then you should not be charged with trespassing.


If you enter the property mistakenly, thinking it is public property or that you have permission to be there, this may be a valid defense against trespassing charges.

Public Necessity

In an emergency, a person may enter private property to prevent harm to themselves or others. In such cases, the defense of public necessity may apply.

Ownership Dispute

If you believed you had a right to be on the property due to a dispute over ownership or title, this may be a valid defense in some cases.

Defenses Against Burglary Allegations

Lack of Intent

Burglary charges require an intent to commit a crime when entering the building or property. If the defendant can prove that they entered the premises without any intention of committing a crime, they may have a defense against the charges. At worst, the charge could be demoted to a trespassing allegation.

Lawful Entry

If the defendant can prove that they had the legal right to enter the property or building, they may be able to argue that they did not commit a burglary.

Mistaken Identity

If the defendant can prove that they were not the person who committed the burglary, they may be able to raise a defense based on mistaken identity.


If the defendant has an alibi, proving they were elsewhere at the time of the burglary, they may be able to use this as a defense.


If the defendant can prove that they had the owner's consent to enter the property or building, they may be able to argue that they did not commit a burglary.

If you’ve been accused of illegally entering a property, Patton & Pittman Attorneys can help. You can call our office at (931) 361-4477 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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