Burglary, commonly referred to as the crime of breaking and entering, takes place when an individual unlawfully gains access to a building with the intention of carrying out another illegal act within the premises. For example, if someone breaks a window to enter an office building with the purpose of stealing confidential documents, they can be charged with burglary.
Burglary covers a wide range of crimes that fulfill its requirements, including theft, murder, robbery, rape, assault, and credit card fraud. All these crimes qualify as burglary as long as they are committed after an illegal entry.
Burglary is classified as a felony offense, which is a serious crime that carries a minimum sentence of at least one year in prison or longer and may also entail substantial fines.
Like most felony offenses, burglary is divided into different degrees based on the severity of the crime committed.
What Are the Different Categories of Burglary and Their Requirements?
The specific degrees or categories of burglary depend on the state laws, with many states having multiple degrees of burglary.
Regardless of the state, all forms of burglary must fulfill the following three elements to be considered a crime:
- A person gains unlawful entry;
- They did not have consent to enter the building or area they accessed; and
- They must have had an intent to commit a crime therein.
In addition to these three elements, each state may have its own unique requirements for a specific degree of burglary. The following is a general overview of how each degree is typically defined.
Fourth Degree Burglary
This degree is generally associated with the intent to commit a burglary. For example, if an individual is found outside a building with burglary tools (e.g., rock, crowbar, etc.), they could be charged with fourth-degree burglary. However, not all states recognize this degree of burglary, and the applicable laws depend on the jurisdiction.
Scenario: John, a known thief, is caught by the police outside a residential building late at night. He is found in possession of a crowbar, gloves, and a flashlight. Although he has not yet entered the building or committed any crime, his possession of burglary tools and his intent to commit a burglary can lead to a charge of fourth-degree burglary, depending on the jurisdiction.
Third Degree Burglary
This degree encompasses the basic definition of burglary, as described earlier. A conviction for third-degree burglary can result in a prison sentence ranging from 1 to 5 years.
In some cases, third-degree burglary may be charged as the offense of unlawful entry, which is a lesser form of burglary and is considered a misdemeanor. Unlawful entry only requires that the person enters a place without consent.
Scenario: Jane breaks the window of an empty retail store and enters the premises after hours, intending to steal expensive merchandise. She has unlawfully entered the building without consent and has the intent to commit theft inside. In this case, Jane could be charged with third-degree burglary.
Second Degree Burglary
A conviction for second-degree burglary can lead to up to 10 years of imprisonment.
This serious offense requires that:
- The defendant be armed;
- They display, use, or threaten to use a weapon;
- They cause injury to a victim; or
- The defendant has a prior record (i.e., they are a “repeat offender”). Some states charge second-degree burglary only if a victim was injured, while others apply this degree if the defendant was armed during the act of burglary.
Scenario: Mike forces his way into a warehouse with the intent to steal valuable equipment. He brings a handgun with him for protection during the burglary. Although he does not encounter anyone in the warehouse and does not cause any injuries, he is armed during the act of burglary. Depending on the state laws, Mike could be charged with second-degree burglary.
First Degree Burglary
First-degree is the most severe degree of burglary and comes with harsh penalties, including a prison sentence of 15 years or longer. First-degree burglary typically requires proof of one of the following elements:
- The defendant is armed with a deadly weapon;
- They cause physical harm to a victim who is not part of the crime;
- They display, use, or threaten to use a deadly weapon; or
- They are a repeat offender. Although the requirements may differ between states, first-degree burglary is generally charged when the crime involves a residence, while second-degree burglary is reserved for commercial structures. Some states may also charge first-degree burglary only if the residence was occupied at the time.
Scenario: Sarah breaks into a family home while the occupants are on vacation. She knows that the family owns valuable jewelry and intends to steal it. While inside, she encounters a neighbor who has come to check on the house. She panics and attacks the neighbor with a knife, causing serious injuries.
In this case, Sarah could be charged with first-degree burglary because she is armed with a deadly weapon and has caused physical harm to a victim who is not part of the crime. The fact that the crime involves a residence may also contribute to the first-degree charge, depending on the state laws.
How Do the Degrees of Burglary Differ From Each Other?
The distinction between fourth and third-degree burglary lies in the actual commission of the crime. In a fourth-degree offense, the defendant is planning to commit a burglary, but the crime has not yet been carried out.
In contrast, with third-degree burglary or higher, the defendant has already entered a building or residence without permission, and the crime has been committed.
The primary difference between third-degree burglary and the remaining degrees is the presence or absence of aggravating factors. In other words, third-degree burglary is a simple burglary, while second and first-degree burglaries involve the use of weapons or deadly weapons.
As previously mentioned, the main difference between first and second-degree burglary usually lies in the type of building that was accessed (e.g., a residence versus an office building). Additionally, the defendant’s criminal history will also be considered when determining the appropriate degree of burglary.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Burglary Charges?
Given the serious nature of burglary offenses, regardless of the degree charged, seek legal assistance from a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
A knowledgeable attorney can help determine if any defenses are available against the charges, provide representation in court if necessary, and discuss the potential outcomes of your case. A lawyer may be able to assist in reducing any resulting punishments, ensuring that your rights are protected throughout the legal process.
LegalMatch is an online legal matching service connecting clients with qualified attorneys practicing in their specific legal issues. If you are facing burglary charges and need legal assistance, LegalMatch can help by providing you with a list of attorneys in your area who have experience handling similar cases.
To get started with LegalMatch, provide some basic information about your case and your location. Then, LegalMatch’s system will match you with local attorneys who have experience handling cases similar to yours.
From there, you can review each attorney’s profile and credentials, read client reviews, and request a consultation with the attorney of your choice.
By using LegalMatch, you can save time and effort in finding a qualified attorney to represent you in your burglary case. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can work towards the best possible outcome for your case and protect your legal rights.