Burglary is the act of breaking and entering into a property with the intent to commit a crime inside. No force is required to constitute a burglary: the crime is committed simply by gaining the unlawful entry into somebody else’s property for the purpose of committing a crime, usually to steal something.
Even though force is not required, the FBI maintains statistics for three different kinds of burglaries based on the use or non-use of force: (1) forcible entry; (2) unlawful entry where no force is used; and (3) attempted forcible entry.
Under federal law, a burglary can take place almost anywhere but a motor vehicle – this includes, for example, a house, apartment, barn, house trailer, houseboat, office, railroad car, stable or a ship. State laws may even be broader. For example, in Florida, the definition of burglary involves the unlawful entry onto the property of a “dwelling, structure or conveyance.” The term “conveyance” includes motor vehicles. Thus, in Florida you can burglarize a car.
Historically, burglaries occurred in private homes, at nighttime. They were perpetrated by people who intended to commit a felony inside the home (that is, a major crime of some sort), or a larceny (a theft crime). In modern times, however, burglaries can be perpetrated for almost any criminal purpose inside the home. But a person who breaks into a home simply to look around would probably not be charged with burglary; he would more likely be charged with a lesser crime or crimes such as breaking and entering, trespassing, or criminal mischief, depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction.
Like other crimes, burglary is a specific intent crime. The suspect must have the specific intent to commit a crime once inside the building or structure.
Defenses to Burglary
At the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick, we analyze every burglary case in terms of whether the prosecution can first prove each and every element of the crime. Can they prove first that there was an unauthorized entry into a building or structure? Can they prove that there was a specific intent to commit a specific crime inside the building or structure? Can they actually prove that the so-called crime inside the building was actually a crime? In other words, can they show that the alleged theft that the alleged burglar was going to commit would actually amount to a theft? (If the so-called burglar was entering into the property to retrieve his jacket which he had left behind hours earlier, he wasn’t really stealing anything).
Then, we move on to explore each of the affirmative defenses to the crime:
- Consent. Did the suspect have the property owner’s express or implied consent to enter the property?
- Permission to Enter Granted/Withdrawal of Permission Ambiguous. Did the property owner grant the suspect permission to enter the property at some point? Did he thereafter withdraw his permission, or did his permission expire in some manner, that was ambiguous or unclear to the suspect, creating reasonable doubt?
- Intoxication. Did the suspect enter the premises in a state of inebriation or a state of mind that prevented him from forming a criminal intent?
- Lack of Proof of Identity or Mistaken Identity. Is there reasonable doubt as to the suspect’s identity?
- Non-Criminal Intent. Do the facts support a legitimate argument that the suspect entered the property with innocent intentions, not for purposes of committing a crime, even if the method of entry was improper?
- Entrapment. In particular cases, a suspect may be able to assert that he was trapped into committing a crime that he otherwise would not have committed.
- Confused as to Whereabouts. A suspect could also theoretically assert a mistake of fact as to whereabouts, and thus a lack of criminal intent, if he entered into a property accidentally believing it to be another property.
The crime of burglary is a serious felony, and invites harsh prison sentences, fines, and lifelong criminal records. If you or someone you know is facing such a charge, we encourage you to act quickly to obtain legal advice. Please contact the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick at 1-866-337-2900 for a free case evaluation.