Crime Overview Burglary

The historic definition of burglary is breaking into and entering a dwelling at night with the intention to commit a felony therein. This definition has been modified over time and is no longer limited to entering at night, or to just dwellings. In the United States, there are generally no limits on the time of day, but in some states, such as California, a burglary at night does constitute a greater offense than a burglary during the day. Burglaries are no longer limited to dwellings, but also include vehicles, businesses and other structures. Burglary can also be called breaking and entering or housebreaking, and consists of forcefully entering a premise that is not your own for the purpose of committing a crime.

Each state has individual laws that more clearly define burglary. For example, entering an unlocked house may or may not constitute burglary, but you could be charged with any subsequent felony, such as theft. Burglary is the act of entering the property, be it a house, garage, shed, business, car, camper or other structure with the intention to further commit a crime.

Most often people think of burglary as synonymous with theft or robbery, but burglary is different, in that to burglarize you need not take any personal property items. Forcefully entering a home or business with the intent to vandalize would be considered burglary, because vandalism is a crime. Another example of burglary that does not involve theft would be a forceful entry into a home with the intention of kidnapping, assault or rape. Burglary can also occur in conjunction with crimes of identity theft or arson.

Because burglary is associated with another crime, it is rarely a stand-alone offense. For example, a person would be charged with burglary and theft, or burglary and destruction of property, or burglary and kidnapping, or burglary and assault. The illegal act that occurred in conjunction with the burglary is treated as a separate offense but the offenses are prosecuted simultaneously.

For burglary there must be an intention to commit another crime once inside the premises, so a locksmith, for example, when using his or her skill to forcefully open a residence for a locked-out homeowner, is not a burglar. Also, if you were fleeing or seeking shelter from a dangerous situation, and forcefully entered a home, garage, shed or other structure with out an intention to commit any crime, it would not be considered burglary.

Burglary is a criminal charge that is prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Because all 50 states, territories and the federal government have different criminal codes, the legal description of burglary and the punishments associated with the crime vary from place to place.

There are differing degrees of burglary, and some aggravating factors which may increase the degree of burglary with which a person is charged, or the sentence if they are convicted, include the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of the burglary, and whether or not the structure is occupied by other people at the time of the burglary. Some states allow for a harsher charge of burglary if the structure entered is indeed a dwelling.

If you have been accused of the crime of burglary, regardless of whether or not you are guilty, you need to hire a qualified criminal attorney. You can find an attorney by visiting the website of the American Bar Association. If you cannot afford the services of a private attorney, one will be provided to you free of cost upon your burglary arrest.