Burglary is a form of theft. Theft is the intentional taking or removing another individual’s property without their permission.
Burglary is classified as a felony offense. Felonies are considered serious crimes which carry a minimum sentence of one year in prison and may result in heavy criminal fines.
The laws governing burglary as well as theft vary from state to state. These laws may also vary depending upon the amount of property which was stolen.
What are the Different Categories of Burglary?
The categories or degrees of burglary vary depending on the laws of a state. The majority of states have multiple degrees of burglary. All of the, however, require the prosecution to provide three elements to convict a defendant, including:
- The defendant gains unlawful entry;
- They did not have consent to enter the building or area they accessed; and
- They had an intent to commit a crime therein.
In addition to these three elements, every state may have its own requirements for the different degrees of burglary. In general, the categories of burglary include:
- Fourth degree burglary, or the intent to commit a burglary. It is important to note that not every state recognizes this category;
- Third degree burglary is usually the basic definition of burglary, as discussed above. In some cases, third degree burglary can be charged as the offense of unlawful entry, a lesser form of burglary and is considered a misdemeanor;
- Second degree burglary, which requires that:
- The defendant was armed;
- The defendant displayed, used, or threatened to use a weapon;
- The defendant caused injury to a victim; or
- The defendant had a prior criminal record.
- It is important to note that certain states will only charge second degree burglary if the victim was injured and other states will apply this degree simply if the defendant was armed during the act of burglary.
- First degree burglary, which is the most serious and may come with severe penalties, including a prison sentence of 15 years or longer. First degree burglary usually requires proof of one of the following elements:
- The defendant was armed with a deadly weapon;
- The defendant caused physical harm to a victim who is not part of the crime;
- The defendant displayed, used, or threatened to use a deadly weapon; or
- The defendant is a repeat offender.
- It is important to note that although the elements differ between states, first degree burglary is typically charged when it is a residence, while second degree is typically reserved for commercial structures. In some states, first degree burglary is only charged if the residence was occupied.
What Types of Property Can be Stolen?
Criminal law provides that there are two main types of property, moveable property and immovable property. Moveable property may include:
- Electronics; and
- Other items.
Immovable property includes:
- Real property, such as land; and
- Items or buildings which are attached to the real property.
There are also other types of property which may be stolen, such as documents of monetary value, which may include money or stock certificates. Information may also be stolen.
This may include things such as identifying data of an individual. Personal services may also be stolen, such as service at a restaurant where an individual dines and dashes without paying.
What is the Difference Between Burglary and Robbery?
Burglary and robbery are terms which are often confused but refer to two different types of crimes. A burglary occurs when a perpetrator breaks and enters into a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime therein.
In many cases, the perpetrator intends to commit a theft, but with the addition of the unlawful entry to a building, it becomes a burglary. In certain cases, a structure has included:
A burglary may also occur if the perpetrator breaks into a building with the intent to commit a different type of felony, such as:
- Arson; and
An important difference between a burglary and a robbery is that breaking and entering into property is an element of burglary but not robbery. Robbery is a felony theft, or larceny, where the perpetrator takes property from another individual by the use of force, intimidation, or the threat of force with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property.
Because of this, robbery may be referred to as larceny by threat or force. An example of robbery would include a perpetrator taking an individual’s money at gunpoint. A burglary, on the other hand, may occur without a threat or a weapon.
How Can I Protect My Residence from Burglary?
Many individuals consider protecting their residences from burglaries. Steps can be taken to deter burglars in any structure. These steps may include:
- Make an individual’s home appear as if it is occupied:
- Leaving the shades up and curtains drawn;
- Leaving a light, television, or radio on;
- Secure the exterior of the home or building:
- Lock doors and windows and do not leave keys in a public place, such as under the front door mat;
- Use exterior lighting, including motion-sensor lights;
- Create the appearance of a secure home:
- Post beware of dog warnings outside;
- Post alarm warning signs;
- Have a secure home:
- Install an alarm system;
- Participate in a neighborhood watch program;
- Secure exterior buildings and garages:
- Add lighting and locks to sheds;
- Do not leave valuables outside;
- Lock any doors which lead from the garage into the home;
- Secure entrances and exits:
- Install a peephole on exterior doors so an individual can see who is outside;
- Secure sliding glass doors, a common entry point for thieves, or replace them with a different type of door;
- If an individual leaves for an extended period of time, take steps to keep the absence from being obvious, including:
- Putting the newspaper on hold;
- Requesting mail collection by a post office or neighbor; and
- Avoiding posting about the individual’s absence on social media.
What if I Was a Victim of a Burglary?
If an individual is the victim of a burglary, they should call law enforcement immediately. If sufficient evidence is available, law enforcement will forward the case to the District Attorney’s office in order to prosecute the individual who committed the burglary.
A victim of burglary may be able to make a claim with their insurance company for any items which were stolen. If an individual’s personal information was stolen, including credit cards or birth certificates, it is important to cancel those cards with the individual’s bank as well as to alert the credit bureaus to the possibility that fraud may occur using the individual’s information.
What Are the Penalties for Burglary if Convicted?
Depending upon the circumstances of the burglary, a defendant who is convicted may face:
- Incarceration ranging from one to twenty five years;
- Court ordered counseling;
- Court ordered rehabilitation program; or
- A combination of the above listen penalties.
When a court determines the penalty for a burglary, it may consider:
- The defendant’s previous criminal record, especially prior burglary convictions;
- The defendant’s probation status;
- The type of structure which was involved in the burglary;
- Whether any other individuals were present in the structure at the time of the burglary;
- The type of crime which the defendant intended to commit during the burglary;
- Whether any weapons were involved in the burglary; and
- Whether the defendant used force during the commission of the offense.
Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Have Been Accused of a Burglary?
It is essential to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with burglary. Burglary is a serious criminal charge and a defendant faces serious legal consequences.
Your attorney can advise you regarding the laws in your state and determine if there are any defenses available in your case. They may also be able to negotiate with the prosecution to have the charges against you reduced or even dismissed, depending on the circumstances of your case. In addition, your attorney will represent you any time you appear in court.