Burglary is a crime defined as the unauthorized entry into a building or dwelling place, with the intent to commit a crime within the premises. Depending on the jurisdiction as well as the circumstances, burglary may either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

For misdemeanor burglary charges, the penalties and sentences can include: up to one year in a county jail facility; and/or imposition of criminal fines

For felony burglary charges, the consequences are more serious:

  • More than one year in a federal prison facility rather than a local jail
  • Increased criminal fines
  • Other consequences like loss of civil privileges, driving privileges, and negative effects in areas like child custody

Criminal sentencing for burglary is sometimes derived from mandatory sentencing guidelines outlined in a state burglary statute. However, judges often have much leeway when it comes to prescribing an actual sentence.

How Does Sentencing for Burglary Work?

In many states, the burglary statute will simply list a range of years for each type of burglary charge. For example, the state of New York classifies burglary into first degree, second degree, and third degree. Third degree is usually the least serious type of burglary case, while first degree is the most serious (typically involving violence). Many states use this type of system. 

Sentencing in New York for each degree of burglary would then be:

  • First degree burglary:  1-25 years
  • Second degree:  1-15 years
  • Third degree: 1-7 years

When determining the defendant’s sentence, the court will consider many different factors, including:

  • The nature of the property trespassed upon (i.e. commercial vs. residential)
  • The serious of the crime committed on the premises
  • The time of day- nighttime burglaries are more serious than daytime burglaries (also known as “housebreaking” in some jurisdictions)
  • Whether the offender has a previous history of burglary

Repeat offenses will usually result in stiffer penalties. On the other hand, the court is likely to consider other factors during sentencing, such as the defendant’s intentions in committing the burglary, and witness testimony supporting the defendant’s character. 

Can I Get a Burglary Sentence Dropped or Reduced?

In many cases the defendant and their lawyer can make a request to have the charges dropped or the sentence reduced to a less severe one. Sometimes the court will take into other facts into consideration, such as the defendant’s intentions in committing the burglary, and witness testimony supporting the defendant’s overall good character.

These may help to get the sentence reduced or the charges lowered to a lesser offense (like trespassing). Also, as in any criminal case, all available defenses can be argued on behalf of the defendant, such as intoxication, coercion, and lack of sufficient evidence. 

Finally, many criminal courts are now implementing methods to reform, rather than punish offenders. These alternative sentencing methods can include:

  • Partial sentencing (work release or weekend sentencing programs)
  • House arrest
  • Mandatory community service
  • Rehabilitation programs

Such alternatives may not be available, and will depend on the circumstances of each case. However, they may be a viable option for many persons, especially juveniles and first-time offenders.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Burglary Charge?

Burglary laws can sometimes be difficult to understand. If you are facing burglary charges, you may wish to speak with a criminal defense attorney in your area. Your lawyer can help you obtain a lighter sentence, or have the charges dropped if possible.  Sentencing for burglary is different in each area, so be sure to contact a lawyer if you have questions and need to be represented in court.