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First-degree burglary refers to entering a building to commit a felony crime or theft while armed with a gun, threatening the occupants with a firearm or explosive device, or harming someone while committing the crime. The definition usually applies to any structure, boat, or vehicle occupied by a person not involved in the offense. First-degree burglary also applies to criminals who display what appears to be a weapon before, during, or after entering the premises.
In some regions, first-degree burglary is called breaking and entering and does not require that a person be hurt during the crime. If a person not involved in the offense is in a house or other dwelling, the person breaking in can be charged with first-degree burglary in these jurisdictions. Burglary laws vary by area, but are commonly considered felonies because of the potential danger and fear suffered by victims.
Laws in various jurisdictions might refer to a deadly weapon instead of a firearm when defining the parameters of first-degree burglary. Classifications of a deadly weapon also vary, but generally include knives with a blade of a certain length, clubs, and brass knuckles. In some areas, a slingshot is considered a deadly weapon capable of causing death or severe bodily harm.
A person convicted of first-degree burglary might also face an enhancement to his or her sentence. Laws in some areas provide for doubling the sentence if someone uses a firearm or deadly weapon while committing a crime. It is generally up to a judge or jury to determine if a weapon used during a burglary can be defined as a deadly weapon under the law.
Intent is another murky part of first-degree burglary law. A prosecutor must prove that a defendant intended to commit theft or another felony before entering a structure. If the offender has burglary tools in his or her possession, intent might be easily shown. Generally, another felony does not have to be completed during first-degree burglary for the charge to be levied. For example, a person might enter a home intending to assault the resident but simply argues with him or her.
Shoplifting can be considered burglary in some regions. Intent in these cases might be difficult to prove unless the criminal carried something into a store to conceal stolen merchandise. It might be hard to determine at what point a thief decided to steal something, whether before entering the store or while inside. If intent cannot be shown in these cases, it may constitute simple theft.