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Although the precise elements required to convict someone of burglary may differ from one jurisdiction to the next, most statutes define burglary as unlawfully, or without permission, entering a building with the intention of committing a crime. Many jurisdictions also provide for different levels of burglary charges. Some jurisdictions use numerical levels, such as "class 1 burglary" or "burglary in the first degree," while others assign a letter to the charge, such as "A felony burglary." As a rule, factors that distinguish more serious burglary charges from less serious ones include the presence and/or use of a weapon, and the presence of an innocent person, or injury to a person.
Burglary is generally the most serious of the "breaking and entering" crimes. While a person may be charged for trespassing, or breaking and entering, for simply entering a building without permission, burglary charges usually require the additional element of an intent to commit a separate crime while in the building or structure. For example, breaking into a building to sleep is likely not burglary, while breaking in to steal things from within the home or building would be.
In most jurisdictions, the most serious burglary charges are filed in a situation wherein the perpetrator was armed and injured someone during the commission of the crime. Some burglary statutes even make a distinction based on the seriousness of the injuries suffered by an occupant, or innocent bystander. The presence of a firearm alone during the commission of a burglary may be enough to charge the defendant with the highest possible burglary charge.
The presence of another person during the commission of a burglary is also likely to be enough to charge the defendant with more than the basic burglary charges. Understandably, most jurisdictions consider committing a crime when the risk to innocent bystanders is heightened to be a more serious crime. Likewise, if the crime that the defendant planned to commit once inside the building or structure was one which called for harm to a person, the charges may also be elevated. For instance, entering a building with the intention of stealing may not be as serious as entering a building with the intention of committing a rape.
Additional factors that may affect what level burglary charges are filed against a perpetrator may include the time of day the crime was committed and what type of structure was entered. Entering at night is often considered to be more serious. In many jurisdictions, burglarizing a home is considered a more serious crime than a business because of the inherently private nature of a home and the heightened chance of encountering the homeowner.
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