Burglary, also known as the crime of breaking and entering, occurs when a person illegally enters a building with the intent of committing a separate illegal offense within that building. For instance, a person who smashes a window to gain access to an office building in order to steal secret records can be charged with burglary.

Theft is just one of the many crimes that would meet the requirements for burglary. In fact, any crime will satisfy the requirements, including murder, robbery, rape, assault, and credit card fraud; so long as it is committed after an illegal entrance is made.

In addition, burglary is a felony offense. A felony is considered a very serious crime that carries a minimum sentence of at least one year in prison or longer, and could potentially result in heavy fines.

As is the case with most felony offenses, there are several different degrees of burglary and they are classified according to the level of wrongdoing.

What are the Different Categories of Burglary?

The different degrees or categories of burglary will vary depending on the laws of a state. Many states typically have multiple degrees of burglary, yet all of them require the following three elements to prove the crime:

  • A person gains unlawful entry;
  • They did not consent to enter the building or area they accessed; and
  • They must have had an intent to commit a crime therein.

Aside from these three elements, each state may have its own requirements to meet a certain degree of burglary, but the list below provides a general summary of how each degree is typically described:

  • Fourth Degree Burglary: Generally speaking, fourth degree burglary is usually defined as having the intent to commit a burglary. For example, if an individual is found outside of a building with a set of burglar’s tools (e.g., rock, crowbar, etc.), then they could be charged with fourth degree burglary. Again, this will depend on the jurisdiction because not every state recognizes this degree of burglary.
  • Third Degree Burglary: Third degree is typically the basic definition of burglary, which was described in the first section. Being convicted of this degree can result in up to 1 to 5 years of imprisonment. Occasionally, third degree burglary may be charged as the offense of unlawful entry, which is a lesser form of burglary and is considered a misdemeanor. Also, unlawful entry only requires that the person enters a place without consent.
  • Second Degree Burglary: Defendants who are convicted of second degree burglary can face up to 10 years of imprisonment. As is evident, second degree burglary is a serious offense. It 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”).

      • Note that some states will only charge second degree if a victim was injured, whereas others will apply this degree simply if the defendant was armed during the act of burglary.
  • First Degree Burglary: First degree is the most serious out of the four and it comes with severe penalties, including a prison sentence of 15 years or longer. First degree typically requires proof of one of the following elements:

    • That 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.

      • Note that although requirements differ between states, first degree burglary is usually charged when it is a residence, while second degree is usually reserved for a commercial structure. Some states may also charge first degree only if the residence was occupied.

What are Some Differences Between the Degrees of Burglary?

Fourth and third degree burglary are separated by the actual commission of the crime. During a fourth degree offense, notice that a burglary has not yet been committed, but the defendant is planning to commit a burglary.

On the other hand, with burglary of the third degree or higher, the defendant has already entered a building or residence without permission. The primary difference between third and the remaining degrees is that there are no aggravating factors present. In other words, third degree is plain burglary, but second and first degrees involve the use of weapons or deadly weapons.

As previously mentioned, the main difference between first and second degree is usually the type of building that was accessed (e.g., a residence versus an office building). Additionally, the past criminal history of the defendant will also be considered.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Burglary Charges?

Burglary is a serious offense, regardless of which degree of burglary is charged. Therefore, it is important that you immediately contact a local criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

Your attorney will be able to determine whether you have any defenses available against the charges, can provide representation in court if necessary, and can discuss the potential outcomes of your case. An attorney may also be able to help you get any resulting punishments reduced.