- The unauthorized entry
- Into a residence or building
- Using force, deceit, or property damage
Note that "breaking" a window or a door is not actually necessary to be found guilty of breaking and entering. For instance, deceiving a security guard to gain unauthorized access to an area may be considered breaking and entering. Or, slightly pushing open a door to enter the building may also be breaking and entering.
In many jurisdictions, burglary is defined as breaking and entering plus the intent to commit a felony while illegally on the premises.
While burglary is usually classified as a felony, breaking and entering is usually classified as a misdemeanor, in a similar manner to criminal trespassing. Penalties for misdemeanors often include a jail sentence of less than one year and some criminal fines. Felony penalties are generally more severe.
In some cases, breaking and entering can also result in felony charges. This can happen for instance if there is severe property damage involved in the break-in, or if another person was seriously injured during the process of breaking and entering. Also, charges may depend on what types of conduct occurred on the premises after the breaking and entering.
A common defense for breaking and entering is that of consent. For instance, if the owner consents to the person’s presence, it is not breaking and entering. A common occurrence is when a person has to forcefully enter their own home after locking themselves out, and then a neighbor calls the police. In such cases, this is not breaking and entering since the person owns the property in question.
Other defenses may include mistaken identity, intoxication, and other standard criminal defenses.
Breaking and entering can lead to some serious criminal penalties. If you or a loved one you know is facing breaking and entering charges, it’s in your best interests to hire a qualified criminal defense attorney in your area. Your lawyer will be able to provide expert legal advice, and can represent you during the actual criminal trial. Every state has slightly different criminal laws, but your lawyer will be able to explain the rules in your area.