Burglary, often called breaking and entering or housebreaking, is a type of crime. In order to commit a burglary, a person must physically enter into a building or a home without authorization and have the intent to commit a crime once inside the premises.

The crime committed while inside the home or building is typically a form of theft, vandalism, arson, rape or kidnapping.  Depending on the state and the details of the crime committed, a burglary may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

In some states, such as New York, burglary is always punished as a felony and the different types of burglary are separated into categories called degrees. These categories range from first-degree burglary to third-degree burglary. Generally, first-degree burglary is the most serious type of burglary and typically involves violence or the use of weapons when committing the burglary.

While burglary is often associated with the unauthorized entry into a home or a business, in some states burglary may also apply to the unauthorized entry into cars, planes, trains, boats, and abandoned buildings.

What is the Punishment for a Burglary Conviction?

The type of punishment, or criminal sentencing, for a burglary varies by state. In most cases, a misdemeanor burglary conviction is punished less harshly than a felony conviction. A sentence for a misdemeanor burglary conviction may include a penalty of up to one year in jail, mandatory payment of fines, community service or probation.

A felony burglary conviction carries more serious punishments and may include more than one year in federal prison, expensive fines, loss of professional licenses and lengthy probation. In some cases, child custody and child visitation orders may be impacted by a felony burglary conviction.

A burglary conviction may also have a lasting impact on a defendant's criminal record which may make finding housing or getting a job more difficult.

What Factors Does a Judge Consider When Determining a Burglary Sentence?

When determining a defendant’s burglary sentence, the criminal court judge may consider many different factors that may reduce or increase the severity of a defendant’s criminal sentence.  

These factors may include considering:

  • Where the burglary took place (a residential property, an abandoned property or a business property);
  • The extent of the crime that was committed on the property (theft, violence against victims, and damages to the property itself such as vandalism);
  • The time of day when the burglary was committed (nighttime burglaries sometimes have harsher sentences than daytime burglaries);
  • The defendant’s previous history of committing burglary (multiple burglary convictions will usually result in harsher sentencing);
  • The use of a weapon during the burglary;
  • The defendant’s mental health state or substance use at the time the burglary was committed.

In most cases, home burglaries, violent burglaries, and nighttime burglaries carry the most severe criminal sentences. Repeat offenders are also punished more harshly compared to first-time offenders.

A sentence may be mitigated (reduced) if the defendant has never been convicted of a crime in the past, or if the defendant was mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the burglary was committed. These factors vary by state.

What is Mandatory Sentencing for Burglary?

In some states, the sentencing for both misdemeanor burglaries and felony burglaries come from mandatory sentencing guidelines. These guidelines vary from state to state and are detailed in state statutes. In states that follow mandatory sentencing guidelines for burglary convictions, criminal law judges have less discretion to consider the multiple factors that may reduce or increase a defendant’s criminal sentence.

What is Alternative Sentencing for Burglary?

In some states, criminal courts are beginning to adopt various types of alternative sentencing methods in burglary convictions. Depending on the state, these types of alternative sentencing methods may include:

  • Partial sentencing which allows for approved work release from jail;
  • Weekend sentencing programs which require jail time to only be served on the weekends;
  • House arrest with GPS monitoring or ankle bracelets;
  • Mandatory community service or community outreach; and
  • Rehabilitation programs that may include mandatory counseling, drug testing, drug detoxification, or classroom work.

These sentencing alternatives may not be available in all burglary cases. Alternative sentencing for burglary is most common in cases that involve juvenile defendants and first-time offenders. Multiple offenders or defendants that have committed violent burglaries may not be eligible for alternative sentencing methods.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help If I am Facing Charges for Burglary?

If you are facing burglary charges, you may be able to defend yourself against the criminal charges, but this is often a difficult and confusing process. Criminal convictions can have a lasting impact on your future and can require serving lengthy sentences.

It is in your best interests to speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area after you have been charged with burglary. A lawyer will help you understand your rights and your defenses.