A Full Overview of Burglary

Burglary is a crime in which the perpetrator enters a structure without permission for the purposes of committing another crime. Burglary involves breaking and entering into a structure that is usually inhabited. The structure can be a home, business, boat, or other residence.

In order to gain entry, the perpetrator enters illegally without permission. Entry may be gained by picking a lock, breaking a door, opening a window, or breaking a window. However, the perpetrator does not necessarily have to break anything in order to gain entry. They simply have to enter the structure in the absence of permission from the owner. For example, a burglar that finds a spare house key hidden outdoors and utilizes it to gain entry has still gained illegal entry. In addition, open doors and windows do not grant a perpetrator permission to enter the structure. In other words, an individual that walks into an open building without permission is still guilty of breaking and entering. 

In addition, entering the structure does not necessarily mean that the perpetrator's body is contained entirely within the structure. For example, an individual may put their hand through a window and grab an item off a counter. That is still considered burglary as the individual’s hand entered the structure with the purpose of committing another offense, namely, theft.  However, if an individual enters a structure simply to rest and commits no other offense, they may only be charged with simple trespass. In order for an individual to be guilty of burglary, they must enter a structure and commit, or have intent to commit, another offense.

In many cases, perpetrators that burglarize a structure at night often face more serious charges than those that burglarize during the day time.  In fact, burglary, by its nature, is considered an inchoate offense. In other words, burglary is a crime which is utilized by perpetrators in order to prepare for another crime.

While burglary often includes theft, that is not always the case. For example, breaking and entering may take place in order to kidnap an individual. In that case, kidnapping is the more serious offense. However, burglary is the inchoate offense because it led to the more serious offense of kidnapping. If the kidnap victim should die, even by accident, the perpetrator would also be charged with felony murder. If any death results from a felony offense, regardless of the circumstances, the perpetrator is charged with felony murder because the death resulted from the felony crime and would not have otherwise happened.

However, burglary and other felony crimes will be punished by differing sentences within each State. For example, some states punish daytime and nighttime burglary in the same manner, while others punish nighttime burglary much more harshly than burglaries that take place during daylight hours. In fact each State defines burglary utilizing unique and specific language. In some cases, Federal law may apply to burglary. For example, if a financial institution is burglarized, the perpetrator would be subject to Federal laws.

There are many ways that home and business owners can protect their property from burglars and other criminals that are attempting to commit property crimes.  First, all structures should be secured with alarm systems. In fact, alarm systems are one of the best deterrents in keeping criminals away from property. If those alarm systems also contain video cameras, it is even less likely that criminals will choose that structure.

In addition, safes are a great way to make valuables inaccessible to thieves. In general, thieves will not attempt to break into safes because it takes too long and they cannot guarantee success. However, there are several exceptions to these rules. In some cases, a structure is chosen simply because the burglar wants something specific contained within the structure. In that case, burglars are likely to learn about all of the security, including the type of safe and the most effective manner to breach security. Yet, in general, alarms and safes can help protect property and valuables.

In addition, home and business owners should do their best to eliminate hiding places for criminals. Landscaping should provide some privacy, but should not allow criminals to hide for long periods of time while remaining undetected. In general, many of the precautions necessary to protect property are common sense. However, there are many ways that criminals can gain access to a structure and it is best for homeowners to seek professional advice to keep their families and valuables safe from criminals.


Burglary, also called breaking and entering, is a serious crime. Burglary is often considered a felony crime. There are many considerations before an individual can be found guilty of breaking and entering or burglary. First, they must enter a structure without permission. The structure can include a business or any type of residence, including boats, homes and trailers. However, they may have permission to enter the structure but have a purpose contrary to that for which permission was granted.

For example, an individual may have been granted permission to enter a house to water plants while a family is on vacation. If, however, that individual gains entry with the key in order to commit an offense, they are still guilty of breaking and entering. In addition, a burglar does not have to enter a structure completely in order to be guilty of the crime. For example, a burglar may use a tool to maneuver something out of a garage without ever entering the structure. That person would still be guilty of breaking and entering.

In addition to entering, the individual must also have intent to commit another offense in order to be found guilty of breaking and entering. For example, the perpetrator may commit a theft, assault, murder, or kidnap an individual after they have gained access to the structure. Yet, they do not necessarily need to complete the offense in order to be found guilty. In fact, the State must only prove that the perpetrator had intent to commit the additional crime. For example, if the individual gained access to the house and was caught with a gun after receiving payments to commit murder of the structures occupants, they would face charges even if the crime was not completed.

Night Time Burglary

In each jurisdiction, different types of burglary will be punished with differing sentences. Those sentences will be dependant on many factors, including the seriousness or degree of the crime. For example, many states punish nighttime burglary much more harshly than burglaries that take place during the day. If the nighttime burglar also had a weapon or used force causing injury or death, they would face the most serious charges possible. In addition, that burglar would likely face a far longer sentence than the daytime burglar that did not carry a weapon.

Statistics show that most burglaries take place in the morning, generally between the hours of nine and eleven a.m. Those burglaries may be considered burglary in the third degree if the homeowner is not present during the daytime burglary. However, during nighttime burglaries, homeowners and their families are much more likely to be home. That same crime would be considered burglary in the second degree if the perpetrator carried a weapon or threatened to inflict bodily harm on an individual.

In many states, nighttime burglary is considered burglary in the first degree, regardless of the presence of weapons of force. In addition, burglary in the first degree can include assault or simply the presence of a deadly weapon with a serious threat of injury during the daytime.

Inchoate Offense

Burglary is considered an inchoate offense. In other words, burglary is usually the preliminary step to another crime. In fact, there are endless crimes that result from burglary. In addition, the perpetrator does not need to complete the other offense in order to be found guilty of burglary. They need only have intent to commit the offense.

For example, if a perpetrator was solicited to commit a murder, they may break and enter while carrying a deadly weapon in order to gain entry to the victim’s residence. However, upon entering, they find that the victim is not home. In that case, the perpetrator would likely be charged with attempted murder and burglary because they attempted to commit murder by breaking and entering.

In addition, burglary can lead to kidnapping, which is a very serious offense. In fact, burglary can be the inchoate offense that leads to a variety of other, much more serious crimes. Breaking and entering in the absence of another offense is likely to be seen as simple trespass, as long as no damage to property resulted from the crime.

Burglary vs. Robbery

There are several differences between burglary and robbery. Burglary involves a perpetrator gaining access to a structure without permission with the intent to commit another offense. Often, that added offense includes theft of property, valuables and money. However, burglary does not have to include theft.

Burglary is an inchoate offense, which means that it is a crime that takes place in preparation for another crime. That additional crime can include offenses of varying degrees such as kidnap, assault, murder, or robbery, whereas robbery requires that the victim be present during the crime, which is theft. The robber gains property through violence or intimidation.

Take for example a hold up at a grocery store, where the perpetrator uses a gun to threaten violence for non-compliance. In that case, the crime is armed robbery. However, if the same criminal gained access to the building without permission and took money from the register after all employees and customers had left, the crime would be burglary. In essence, burglary requires that no victim be present and theft is not a requirement to define burglary. However, robbery requires that a victim be present and that the victim give up property.

Specific Considerations

Burglary must include the perpetrator entering a structure without permission with the intent of committing another crime. While theft is often the result of breaking and entering, it is not the only consideration. In fact, many times burglars do not commit theft. For example, stalkers often break and enter in order to gain access to a victim’s residence. Many times, stalkers just enter the structure without taking anything before they leave. In some cases, stalkers may install cameras or microphones, but choose to take none of the victim’s property. The perpetrator would still be guilty of breaking and entering, even though no theft was committed.

Burglary often leads to other crimes. On many occasions, burglars utilize information found in a residence in order to commit identity theft. In fact, the information necessary to do so is often readily available in a residence and even in someone's trash. Many times, breaking and entering is utilized in order to commit murder or assault. While it is sometimes the perpetrator’s intention, it also sometimes happens when the perpetrator is accidentally confronted by the homeowner. In either case, the resulting charge would be felony murder.

Many times, cases hang on mens rea, or intent. However, the burglar did not have to intend the death of a victim. They only had to intend to break and enter to be found guilty of felony murder. In any case, charges brought against the offender will vary according to State law.

While many states treat breaking and entering as a felony, sentences may vary widely.  In all cases, sentences increase depending on the nature of the crime that resulted from breaking and entering. For example, a burglar that kidnaps a victim would face more serious charges than a burglar that simply commits theft. In addition, many states impose longer sentences if the burglar carried a weapon or threatened harm to anyone. In addition, many laws allow for harsher penalties against an individual that is guilty of breaking and entering at night. Each State takes different factors into account when making sentencing determinations for individuals found guilty of burglary.

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