Burglary is a type of crime that occurs when a person breaks and enters into a house or building for the purpose of committing a crime. It is usually committed when someone intends to carry out the crime of theft once they have illegally entered the premises. However, the unlawful entry onto property with the intention of committing any crime such as assault or arson may constitute burglary. 

The crime of burglary is often called by other names, such as breaking and entering or housebreaking. However, there may be slight differences between these terms, depending on state criminal laws and statutes. Also, depending on state laws and the details of the crime that was committed, burglary can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  

Is a Burglary a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

In many states (like New York), burglary is punishable as a felony, and can often be further separated into categories called “degrees”. These may range for instance from first-degree to third-degree burglary. Usually, first-degree burglary is the most serious type of burglary crime, while second- and third-degree burglary charges are less serious. 

In other states or jurisdictions, burglary may be classified as a misdemeanor crime, which is less serious than a felony crime. Factors that go into determining how serious a burglary crime is may include:

  • How the person gained entry into the property (for instance, destroying a door versus sneaking in through an open window);
  • Whether any property was damaged during the crime;
  • Whether there were any people present;
  • Whether any violence or threats of violence were used to commit the burglary;
  • Whether any weapons were involved in the commission of the crime; and
  • Various other factors that depend on the circumstances

Usually, if violence or a weapon was used, then it will typically result in more serious felony charges.

What are the Punishments and Penalties for Burglary?

Specific criminal punishments for a burglary conviction will depend on whether or not the person was convicted of felony or misdemeanor burglary. Punishments for felony burglary may result in prison sentences of longer than one year, as well as heavy criminal fines. 

For misdemeanor burglary convictions, the person may face a shorter sentence in jail (not prison) for up to one year, and less severe fines or fees. Again, punishments for burglary crimes often depend on state laws, as these can differ widely from area to area.

If a person is found guilty of committing burglary, they may face various penalties under state and local criminal laws. Depending on the exact charge, this can include:

  • Jail or prison sentences;
  • Probation;
  • Fines or criminal fees;
  • Mandatory counseling; 
  • Rehabilitation programs; or
  • Other penalties that may be unique to the jurisdiction.

In many cases, the penalties may depend on the person’s prior criminal record. If they are a first-time offender, then alternative sentencing options like probation or mandatory counseling may be issued. For repeat offenders, a jail or prison sentence is more likely to result.

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

When determining a person’s overall sentence for burglary, a judge may consider:

  • The person’s previous criminal record;
  • Whether they are a repeat or habitual offender for burglary;
  • In what type of area the burglary happened (for instance, a home versus an abandoned building); 
  • What type of crime was committed while on the property (or what type of crime they intended to commit);
  • The time of day when the burglary happened (some states impose harsher penalties for nighttime burglary as opposed to daytime burglary crimes);
  • Whether a weapon or violence was used in the crime (or threats of harm); and
  • The mental state of the defendant at the time of the burglary (for instance, if they were intoxicated so they were unable to form the necessary intent to commit a burglary).

These factors will all be reviewed to arrive at the sentencing that is the most appropriate, given the circumstances.

What is Mandatory Sentencing for Burglary?

In some cases, burglary crimes may fall under mandatory sentencing statutes. The term “mandatory sentencing” generally means that the sentences and fines cannot be changed or altered. They typically involve minimum amounts of time spent in jail and minimum amounts for fines. A judge may prescribe longer sentences or higher fines, but they cannot go below the minimums. 

For instance, a mandatory sentence for misdemeanor burglary might be one year in jail and a fine of $6,000. These will all depend on state laws; some states do not impose mandatory sentencing for burglary. 

What is Alternative Sentencing for Burglary?

In other instances, alternative sentencing may be available for a defendant facing burglary charges. The term, “alternative sentencing” typically involves sentencing options that are designed to allow the defendant to stay out of jail or prison. Rather than going to jail, the person might be allowed other options, such as:

  • Community service;
  • Mandatory counseling or rehabilitation;
  • Paying fines only;
  • Work release programs;
  • House arrest options; and
  • Other options that the court decides.

Alternative sentencing is usually only available for certain defendants, such as first-time offenders or juvenile offenders (usually under the age of 18). However, it will always depend on the presiding judge and the circumstances of the case.

Are There Any Defenses Against Burglary Charges?

As with any other type of criminal charge, various defenses may be applied to criminal charges. Defenses can include:

  • Intoxication;
  • Insanity defense;
  • Lack of intent to commit a crime after entering the property (though the person may face breaking and entering charges);
  • Duress (the person was forced to commit the crime under threat of harm); and
  • Various other defenses. 

Again, these will also depend on state laws as well as the exact details of the crime. Some defenses don’t completely remove the charge; some of them serve mainly to reduce the sentence of a charge.  

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

Burglary charges can result in serious criminal penalties and punishments. They can also be somewhat complex, as there are many elements involved in proving the crime. 

If you are dealing with criminal burglary charges, it may be in your best interests to hire a criminal defense lawyer in your area. Your lawyer can explain your legal options and can determine what types of defenses might be applicable in your case.