What is a Burglary?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 January 2020
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Burglary is a crime that occurs when one or more people break into and enter another person’s premises with the intent to commit a felony once inside. Traditionally, burglary required the offender to commit the crime at night. In modern times, however, most jurisdictions have abolished this distinction.

In order to secure a burglary conviction, a prosecutor ordinarily needs to prove several elements. First, he or she must show that there was a breaking and entering by the offender. This traditionally meant that the offender had to use some type of physical force, such as smashing in a window with a hammer, in order to secure entry into the premises. In some jurisdictions, this has been modified so that merely opening an unlocked door is sufficient force. Entry secured by fraud can also be enough to establish this element. For instance, if an offender pretends to be a repairman in order to secure entry to a person’s house, this element may be established.

Secondly, the prosecuting attorney must show that the burglary occurred in the premises of another person. Historically, this meant a home invasion rather than entry into a building used for other purposes, such as a store, warehouse, or office. While this distinction still exists in some jurisdictions, many no longer abide by this strict definition. Other jurisdictions choose to levy heftier penalties if the crime involves a private residence.


The final element is intent to commit a felony, usually theft, once inside. Intent can be established by the circumstances surrounding the incident. For instance, if an offender was wearing an empty backpack when he broke into a house, this may indicate that he intended to store stolen goods in the backpack. If the offender intends to commit a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, some jurisdictions still consider this a burglary. In that situation, the offender generally receives a milder sentence.

In some jurisdictions, different degrees of burglary, such as first degree and second degree, are assigned to the crime, depending on the circumstances of the incident. Factors influencing this can include whether anyone was in the premises when the breaking and entering occurred, the location of the building, and the use of any weapons. The time that the crime occurred as well as whether the offender intended to commit a felony or misdemeanor are other considerations. A person convicted of burglary may be ordered to spend time in prison and may be required to pay fines as prescribed by statute.


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