Colorado "Burglary" Laws

Colorado first, second and third-degree burglary -- including burglary of controlled substances

Burglary is the felony crime of knowingly entering or unlawfully remaining on someone else's property with the intent to commit a crime (other than trespass). Burglary is divided into

The degree of burglary that gets charged depends on the type of property and the level of danger to anyone inside.

Examples of burglary include (without limitation):

  • Prying open a locked cash register to steal the money;
  • Breaking into a house to kidnap someone inside;
  • Hiding in a store until after it closes so that you can vandalize it.

You do not commit a burglary if you commit a crime on a property that you are on lawfully, or if you form the intent to commit the crime only after you are already on the property.

Consequences of burglary

Burglary is always a felony in Colorado. Penalties for burglary can range from one to forty-eight years in prison and a fine of between $1,000 and $1,000,000, depending on:

  • the degree of burglary,
  • the crime you commit or intended to commit, and
  • whether you threatened or menaced anyone, or used or threatened the use of, a deadly weapon.

Breaking into or remaining in a building or occupied dwelling is more serious than entering a locked vault or box. And if the purpose of the burglary is to steal one or more controlled substances, punishment increases regardless of the degree.

Defenses to burglary charges

Common means of defending burglary charges include (but are not limited to):

  • You were lawfully on the property;
  • You didn't know you were unlawfully on the property;
  • You didn't enter or remain on the property with the intent to commit a crime.

To help you better understand Colorado's burglary laws, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss, below:

1. How does Colorado law define burglary?

In Colorado, burglary consists of three essential elements:

  1. You knowingly,
  2. Enter or unlawfully remain on someone else's property,
  3. With the intent to commit any crime (other than trespass) while you are on or inside the property.

Let's take a closer look at each of these elements.

1.1. The legal meaning of “knowingly”

In Colorado, you commit burglary knowingly when:

  • You conduct yourself in a way, or under a circumstance, prohibited by one of Colorado's burglary laws, or
  • You are aware that your conduct is practically certain to cause a result prohibited by the burglary law.1

The “knowingly” requirement applies to every element of the offense. Thus, for instance, if you don't know you are on someone else's property without lawful authority, you aren't guilty of burglary.

1.2. Entering or unlawfully remaining on property

You do not need to “break into” property in order to commit burglary. It is enough that you simply enter or remain on property unlawfully.2

You enter or remain on premises unlawfully when you are not licensed, invited, or otherwise privileged to do so.3

If you are lawfully on the premises, however, you are not guilty of burglary, even if you enter or remain intending to commit a crime.

  • Example:
  • Joe, a plumber, is hired to unclog the kitchen sink of one of his clients. He knows from prior experience that this client keeps an expensive laptop in the nook next to the kitchen. While he is in the house lawfully to work on the sink, he slips the laptop into his toolbox. Although he is guilty of theft, he is not guilty of burglary because he was lawfully on the premises.4

1.3. Intent to commit a crime

Contrary to popular belief, the crime you intend to commit does not need to involve theft. Nor does it need to be a felony. Any crime other than trespass can serve as the basis for a felony burglary charge.

However, the intention to commit the crime needs to have been formed at the time you entered the property or before you remained on the property unlawfully. If you only formed the intent to commit a crime after you were already there, you are not guilty of burglary.

  • Example:
  • Kathy is at a party when she gets a headache. The host tells her there is a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. When Kathy opens the medicine cabinet, she sees a prescription bottle of Vicodin and decides to take it. While she is guilty of theft, she is not guilty of burglary because she was already on the premises lawfully when she formed the intent to steal the drugs.
  • And even if she only went to the party in order to steal the drugs, because she was an invited guest, she has still not committed burglary. If, on the other hand, she saw the drugs at the party and broke in later that night in order to steal them, she would be guilty of burglary.

2. What are the degrees of burglary?

2.1. Third-degree burglary - 18-4-204 C.R.S.

18-4-204 (1) C.R.S. provides:

A person commits third-degree burglary if with intent to commit a crime he enters or breaks into any vault, safe, cash register, coin vending machine, product dispenser, money depository, safety deposit box, coin telephone, coin box, or other apparatus or equipment whether or not coin operated.

Colorado's law on third-degree burglary applies not only to the types of property specifically listed in the statute, but to other locked boxes and containers including (without limitation):

  • Parking lot collection boxes,5
  • Glass display cases,6 and
  • Gym lockers secured with personal combination locks.7

2.2. Second-degree burglary - 18-4-203 C.R.S.

18-4-203 (1) C.R.S. provides:

A person commits second-degree burglary, if the person knowingly breaks an entrance into, enters unlawfully in, or remains unlawfully after a lawful or unlawful entry in a building or occupied structure with intent to commit therein a crime against another person or property.

For purposes of Colorado's second-degree burglary statute, a structure is a “building” if it offers protection against the elements, even if the roof and/or walls are in disrepair. And any part of a building can be a dwelling if it is part of someone's residence or lodgings.

Examples of dwellings:

  • A garage attached to a house,8
  • A hotel room,
  • A trailer home, or 
  • A jail cell.9

However, an animal enclosure with chicken wire for a roof would not be a building within the meaning of 18-4-203 C.R.S. because its sheltering effect is minimal.10

2.3. First-degree burglary - Colorado 18-4-202 C.R.S

Entering or remaining unlawfully in a building or dwelling becomes first-degree burglary rather than second-degree burglary if, while on the property or while entering or leaving, you or another participant:

  • Assaults or menaces any person; or
  • Is armed with explosives; or
  • Uses a deadly weapon; or
  • Possesses and threatens the use of a deadly weapon.
  • Example:
  • Oscar and Perry break into their high school one night intending to spray paint graffiti on the teachers' lounge. Perry has a switchblade in his jacket pocket, in violation of Colorado's law against carrying a concealed weapon on school grounds. While they are on school property, they run into the night janitor. When the janitor takes out his phone to call the police, Perry pulls out his switchblade and threatens to cut him, a violation of Colorado's menacing law. As a result, both Oscar and Perry can be charged with first-degree burglary.

3. What is the punishment for burglary?

3.1. Third-degree burglary penalties

Colorado third-degree burglary is usually a Colorado class 5 felony. Consequences of third-degree burglary can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

However, third-degree burglary becomes a Colorado class 4 felony if the objective of the burglary is the theft of a controlled substance lawfully kept in or upon the property. Penalties for third-degree burglary involving a controlled substance can include:

  • 2-6 years in prison (with 3 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

3.2. Second-degree burglary penalties

Colorado second degree burglary of a building other than a dwelling is a class 4 felony. However, it becomes a Colorado class 3 felony if:

  • The building is a dwelling; or
  • The objective of the burglary is the theft of a controlled substance lawfully kept within any building or occupied structure.

As a class 4 felony, Colorado second degree burglary can be punished by:

  • 2-6 years in prison (with 3 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

As a class 3 felony, consequences of second-degree burglary can include:

  • 4-12 years in prison (with 5-years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

3.3. First-degree burglary penalties

3.3.1. First-degree burglary

First-degree burglary is usually a class 3 felony.  Punishment for Colorado first degree burglary can include:

  • 4-12 years in prison (with 5-years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

3.3.2. First-degree burglary of a controlled substance

First-degree burglary involving a controlled substance within a pharmacy or other place having lawful possession thereof is first-degree burglary of controlled substances, a Colorado class 2 felony.

Consequences of first-degree burglary of controlled substances are:

  • 8-24 years in prison (with 5-years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.

3.3.3. First-degree burglary as a Colorado “crime of violence”

First-degree burglary carries an enhanced penalty as a Colorado “crime of violence” if:

  • You used, or possessed and threatened the use of, a deadly weapon; or
  • You caused serious bodily injury or death to any other person except another participant.

As a crime of violence, first-degree burglary of a controlled substance carries a mandatory prison sentence of 16-48 years.

4. Are there defenses to Colorado burglary charges?

The best defense to Colorado burglary charges depends on the exact crime you were charged with. However, some of the most common defenses to Colorado burglary accusations include:

  • You were lawfully on the property;
  • You didn't know you were unlawfully on the property;
  • You didn't enter or remain on the property with the intent to commit a crime;
  • You were the victim of mistaken identity;
  • There was police misconduct (such as coercing your confession of discovering evidence through an illegal search and seizure).

5. Related offense: Possession of burglary tools, Colorado 18-4-205, C.R.S.

Colorado 18-4-205 (1) C.R.S. provides:

A person commits possession of burglary tools if he possesses any explosive, tool, instrument, or other article adapted, designed, or commonly used for committing or facilitating the commission of an offense involving forcible entry into premises or theft by a physical taking, and intends to use the thing possessed, or knows that some person intends to use the thing possessed, in the commission of such an offense.

CRS 18-4-205 makes possession of burglary tools is a class 5 felony. It can be punished by:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Call us for help…

If you or someone you know has been charged with violating Colorado's burglary laws, we invite you to contact our Colorado criminal attorneys for a free consultation.
Find out why we are considered some of the best burglary defense lawyers in Colorado.

Communities our Colorado burglary attorneys serve include Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Thornton, Arvada, Westminster, Centennial and Boulder.

You can reach us confidentially through the form on this page, or by calling us at our convenient Denver home office, located at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

Arrested in California? See our article on California burglary laws | Penal Code 459 PC. Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada burglary laws (NRS 205.060).

Legal references:

  1. See 18-1-501 (6) C.R.S.
  2. Armintrout v. People, 1993, 864 P.2d 576.
  3. People v. Bondurant, App.2012, 296 P.3d 200, rehearing denied, certiorari denied.
  4. See, e.g., People v. Carstensen, 1966, 420 P.2d 820, 161 Colo. 249.
  5. People v. Garcia, App.1989, 784 P.2d 823, certiorari denied.
  6. People v. Geyer, App.1996, 942 P.2d 1297.
  7. People v. Nerud, App.2015, 360 P.3d 201, certiorari denied.
  8. People v. Jiminez, 1982, 651 P.2d 395.
  9. People v. Nichols, App.1996, 920 P.2d 901, rehearing denied.
  10. Same.



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