Burglary in SC – Can You Be Charged with Burglary of an RV or Camper?

Burglary in SC can be complicated – with a sentencing range from the possibility of no jail time on a burglary third degree to life in prison for a burglary first degree, it is arguably one of the most serious offenses in South Carolina.

Whether you are facing 0 to 5 or 15 to life depends on the definitions of “building” and “dwelling” under SC law – definitions that also have an impact on people who are facing Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) enhancements in federal court.

Does a burglary conviction from SC count as a “predicate offense” for the ACCA in federal court?

And, if you are in state court, can you be charged with burglary in SC of an RV, a camper, or a watercraft like a yacht or a sailboat?

U.S. v. Stitt – “Generic Burglary” for Purposes of the ACCA in Federal Court

In U.S. v. Stitt, decided December 10, 2018, the US Supreme Court held that the definition of “generic burglary” for purposes of the ACCA “includes burglary of a structure or vehicle that has been adapted or is customarily used for overnight accommodation.”

This is important (if you are charged with a firearms violation in federal court and have a burglary conviction from SC) because previous circuit court of appeals opinions have excluded state burglary statutes that included vehicles like RVs or campers…

What is the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)?

A person who is convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm in federal court and who has three or more prior convictions for certain violent crimes (including burglary) or drug offenses (see 18 U.S.C. §924(e)) is subject to a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

What is “Generic Burglary?”

The ACCA lists burglary as a violent crime that counts towards the ACCA enhancement, which has resulted in quite a bit of litigation to decide which state’s burglary statutes qualify and which do not.

To solve this problem, the federal courts have adopted a definition of generic burglary: “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime.”

Using the “categorical approach,” if a state’s burglary statutes are the same as generic burglary or more restrictive, that state’s burglary convictions will count towards ACCA enhancement.

On the other hand, if a state’s burglary statutes include conduct that is not covered by “generic burglary,” then the conviction will not be counted (although, under the “modified categorical approach,” courts will sometimes look at the charging documents or other filings to determine whether the conviction was based on conduct that falls under the definition of “generic burglary”).

Burglary in SC State Court – Can You be Charged with Burglary of an RV or Camper?

The question is really, “Can you be charged with first-degree burglary of an RV or camper?” If the RV is not a dwelling, you could still be charged with burglary third degree or burglary second degree.

Is an RV or a camper a dwelling? What about a car? A tent?

What is Burglary in SC?

Burglary is when a person goes into someone else’s dwelling or building without permission and with the intent to commit a crime.

If someone has an RV parked in their yard and they use it only for storage – no one lives in it, then it must be considered a building. A building begins as a burglary third degree. Then, if there are aggravating factors (nighttime, firearm involved, criminal history for burglaries), it can become a burglary second degree.

Why does it matter if it’s a dwelling or a building?

Because you can only be charged with burglary first degree if it was a dwelling – which carries a mandatory minimum of 15 years and as much as life in prison if you are convicted.

If a person enters a building without consent and with the intent to commit a crime, they can be charged with burglary second or third degree, depending on whether there are aggravating factors.

If a person enters a dwelling without consent and with the intent to commit a crime, they can be charged with burglary first or second degree, depending on whether there are aggravating factors.

What is a Dwelling in SC?

First, let’s talk about what is a building for purposes of the burglary statute – noting that some buildings become dwellings depending on their use…

SC Code Section 16-11-310 defines a building as:

…any structure, vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft:

(a) Where any person lodges or lives; or

(b) Where people assemble for purposes of business, government, education, religion, entertainment, public transportation, or public use or where goods are stored.

Note that the definition of building includes vehicles, watercraft, and aircraft. 16-11-310 also defines dwelling as “the living quarters of a building which is used or normally used for sleeping, living, or lodging by a person.”

Which could include a vehicle – RV, camper, or even a car – or a watercraft like a yacht or a sailboat where a person lives and sleeps.

SC Code Section 16-11-10 defines dwelling house as:

With respect to the crimes of burglary and arson and to all criminal offenses which are constituted or aggravated by being committed in a dwelling house, any house, outhouse, apartment, building, erection, shed or box in which there sleeps a proprietor, tenant, watchman, clerk, laborer or person who lodges there with a view to the protection of property shall be deemed a dwelling house, and of such a dwelling house or of any other dwelling house all houses, outhouses, buildings, sheds and erections which are within two hundred yards of it and are appurtenant to it or to the same establishment of which it is an appurtenance shall be deemed parcels.

So, under SC law, an RV, camper, or other vehicle that someone lives in is a dwelling for purposes of the burglary statutes. The definition of dwelling covers any place where a person sleeps, whether the resident owns the property or not, and it also includes “outhouses, buildings, sheds and erections which are within two hundred yards of it and are appurtenant to it or to the same establishment of which it is an appurtenance.”

Do SC Burglary Convictions Count Towards ACCA Enhancement in Federal Court?

In 2015, in US v. McLeod, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that, under the “categorical approach” (does the state statute include conduct that is not included in the federal definition of “generic burglary”), SC’s burglary statute does not qualify as an ACCA predicate offense because it includes vehicles, boats, or airplanes in its definition of building.

After U.S. v. Stitt, this is an open question again. The US Supreme Court in Stitt held that vehicles are now included in the federal definition of generic burglary… would boats or airplanes also qualify?

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC who defends state and federal criminal cases in the Eastern SC area.

If you have been charged with a crime in state or federal court in SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or contact us online to talk to a Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney today.


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