The crime of breaking and entering is defined as accessing a residence or other confined structure by the use of force and without having any authorization or consent from the owner.

Under most state criminal law statutes, to “break and enter” simply means to use force in order to gain unlawful access to the land or an enclosed property structure. Such an incident will be charged as “breaking and entering,” which is very similar to the charges received for criminal trespassing.

In addition, breaking and entering does not always involve the actual destruction or “breaking” of property. For instance, criminal charges can still result if the defendant simply pushed open an unlocked door to enter the property. A defendant can also be charged if they bribed or deceived a security guard in order to gain access to a commercial building.

Finally, although the differences will be discussed in further detail below, it is important to keep in mind that the crime of breaking and entering does not necessarily refer to burglary. To be charged with burglary, the defendant must have had the intent to commit another felony before illegally entering the building or residence.

How Can You Prove the Crime of Breaking and Entering?

There are several elements that the prosecutor must prove in order to establish a breaking and entering conviction. Generally speaking, this may include the following elements:

  • Unauthorized entry;
  • Into a building or property owned by another;
  • With the use of force, deceit, or property damage; and
  • Without the consent or permission of the building and/or property owner.

In most states, it is not necessary that the defendant physically “broke” or forced their way into a place to be charged with breaking and entering. Any unlawfully gained entrance into a building may constitute breaking and entering, so long as the other requirements are met.

For example, if a defendant climbs a tree and enters a second floor window that was already opened and they do not have consent from the owner to do so, they can be charged with breaking and entering.

How is Breaking and Entering Related to Burglary Charges?

Burglary is very closely related to the crime of breaking and entering. Most jurisdictions even define the first element of burglary as a “breaking and entering,” but then tack on the phrase “while having the intent to commit a felony therein.”

Thus, burglary almost always involves some form of breaking and entering, plus another type of felony offense, such as kidnapping, rape, assault, or murder. Burglary is not just theft of property.

In contrast, while the goal of breaking and entering is usually to commit a theft, this is not always the case. As such, the crime of breaking and entering does not always result in burglary charges.

For instance, if the defendant broke into and entered a building simply to take pictures, it would not be considered burglary. Also, this particular example would most likely only be charged as a misdemeanor.

What are Some Common Methods of Breaking and Entering?

Traditionally, breaking and entering referred to what one usually thinks of when they hear these words: accessing a door or a window. However, there are many more ways that may qualify as the crime of breaking and entering:

  • Breaking locks, seals, or chains to enter the building or residence;
  • Using deception or fraud in order to gain access to a certain property;
  • Burrowing or digging a tunnel;
  • Destroying walls, ceilings, or other aspects of a structure;
  • Using trees or outdoor furniture to climb through an opening; and/or
  • Going through a door meant for pets.

What are Some Penalties for a Breaking and Entering Charge?

In most states, being convicted of the crime of breaking and entering is a very serious matter because it is often considered a felony offense. Although there are a handful of states that will charge it as a misdemeanor offense, it is not usually the case. As such, the penalties that a defendant may receive for a breaking and entering conviction can be quite harsh.

The following list provides the potential penalties one might receive for a breaking and entering conviction:

  • A certain length of either jail time or a prison sentence (usually for a year or longer);
  • Fines ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000;
  • Probation or parole; and
  • Restitution.

Also, it should be noted that if the charge results in a felony conviction, the crime can remain on a person’s criminal history for the rest of their life. Having a criminal record with a felony can have negative consequences, such as not being able to vote in elections and not obtaining custody over children.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Breaking and Entering Charges?

The crime of breaking and entering can sometimes pose complex legal challenges. For instance, many breaking and entering cases often involve burglary charges as well. This can make a case much more difficult to handle and may even require legal assistance.

Therefore, if you are facing charges for breaking and entering, it may be in your best interest to contact a local criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can provide you with valuable legal advice about your case, can determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the charges, and will be able to represent you in court if necessary.