Burglary is a type of criminal theft that occurs when someone breaks and enters into a home or other building with the purpose of committing a crime. Burglary is usually committed when someone intends to carry out the crime of theft after illegally entering the premises. However, any unlawful entry onto property for the purpose committing any crime, such as assault or rape, constitutes burglary.
After someone is arrested for burglary, they will be booked and formally charged with the crime. Next comes an arraignment, where the defendant may be offered bail. If the defendant posts bail, they can wait for their trial date at home. If not, they have to wait in jail. However, keep in mind that if the defendant intended to commit a very serious felony (like murder), bail likely will not be an option.
If the case is not dismissed, it will proceed to trial. Burglary is a generally considered a felony crime in most situations, especially when the intended crime after breaking into the structure is a felony. While the states vary on what the prosecution needs to prove for burglary, it usually consists of the following elements:
- The entry is illegal and unauthorized;
- The entry is into a structure not owned by the defendant (someone else’s home or business); and
- The defendant intended to commit a crime (usually a felony or theft).
Generally, the person does not need to use force to be convicted of burglary. An individual can be arrested for burglary just by stepping foot in a building without permission from the owner and with the intent to commit a crime. This differs from the crime of robbery, where force is oftentimes a necessary component of the crime.
The defense will have the opportunity to present a case at trial. For example, one defense to the crime could be that you did not intend to commit a crime when entering the structure.
If the prosecution proves their case at trial and the defendant is found guilty, the case will proceed to sentencing. Depending on the severity of the burglary, the consequences may include:
- Counseling; and/or
- Rehabilitation program.
The severity of the penalty will generally depend on the severity of the crime. While the states may vary on how they reach a conclusion on appropriate penalty, the judge may consider the following factors during sentencing:
- Previous criminal record, including prior convictions for burglary;
- Probation status;
- The type of structure involved;
- Whether other people were present in the structure;
- Type of crime the defendant intended to committed during the burglary;
- Whether any weapons were involved; and
- Whether the defendant used force during the crime.
Over the years, the definition of the crime of burglary has expanded. This has been done in order to accommodate various factors involved in burglary instances. For example, consider the following points:
- Structures: Throughout the years, there have been many different instances where judges have to decide what constitutes a burglary.
- For example, most jurisdictions have ruled that the “structure” or “property” need not refer to an actual building. Tents, cars or rooms may also be counted for purposes of illegal entry into a property. Texas even has a law for burglary of coin machines.
- Entry: The stereotypical burglary occurs when someone lifts open a window, enters a home and commits the intended his. However, during a theft it may still be burglary when a person lifts a window open and then uses an object, like a stick, to bring a desired object outside. As such, “entry” does not always refer to an individual’s physical body breaking into a structure, but instead can include any physical object used to commit the crime.
- Additionally, in most jurisdictions it is impossible to commit burglary if you live in the building you are breaking and entering into. Keep in mind that you do not have to be the owner of the property for this exception to apply - you simply need to be living inside the property.
- Invitation to Property: Burglary can be a gray area when someone has been invited to a structure. The greatly varies between jurisdictions. Some courts will find that there was no burglary after being invited because the person had no intention of committing a crime. In those courts, the appropriate crime would be criminal trespass.
- In other courts, if the invitation was only for a specific purpose then they can still be charged with burglary. The person would still need to intend to commit a crime, which obviously would be outside of the realm of the invitation into the structure. The distinction here matters because burglary is almost always punished more harshly than trespass.
If you are accused of burglary you should speak to a local criminal defense attorney immediately to learn more about your rights and defenses. An attorney can represent you in court an attempt to get your charges dropped or negotiate a plea deal on your behalf.