Can a person be convicted from breaking into their own home? Yes, says the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The court released its ruling Monday in the case of a Charleston County man, Ferris Singley, who broke into a house he partially owned with his brother and mother. He had inherited a 12.5 percent share of the home after his father died in 2001. However, the other two kicked Singley out of the house in 2005.
He later returned, slipping through a back window while no one was home. He then tied up his mother after she returned and stole $200. She later escaped and called police, who arrested Singley at his own residence.
During the trial, defense attorneys argued that, since Singley was part-owner of the house, he could not be charged with illegally entering it. The jury did not agree, sentencing him to life in prison. He appealed to an appellate court, then to the state Supreme Court.
The court said that, while Singley did own the home, he did not legally “possess” it and thus could be charged with burglary. The five justices said burglary “is a crime against possession and habitation, not a crime against ownership.”
The justices also said what determines “possession” in such a case is best left to a jury.
A reasonable jury could conclude that Singley did not have any expectation of peace and security in the dwelling at issue nor custody and control of it, despite his ownership interest. He left with little protest when his mother requested he leave… and did not return until six months later when he was required to enter through a back window. Therefore, the jury could find that the home was not Singley’s “own home” for burglary purposes.