Burglary involves the act of unlawfully breaking into and entering of buildings and other structures with the intent to commit a crime therein, such as theft or vandalism. Although burglary is often associated with theft, the crime that is the object of the burglary could include a range of offenses. Even if the objective crime is not carried out, if the defendant has the requisite intent, it is sufficient.
Depending on the state, burglary can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. Residential burglary cases are generally punished more severely than burglary of other structures. Burglary at night is also determined in some states to warrant stricter punishment. Defendants should contact lawyers in their state to confirm the grading and potential sentencing of a burglary offense in their jurisdiction.
As an example, according to the Model Penal Code (Section 221.1), which some states have adopted, burglary is a second degree felony if perpetrated in the dwelling of another at night, or if, in the course of committing the offense, the actor:
(a) purposely, knowingly or recklessly inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily injury on anyone; or
(b) is armed with explosives or a deadly weapon.
This provision essentially describes a home invasion offense. If not a home invasion or perpetrated at night, burglary is a third degree felony. Defendants should note that they can be prosecuted for a burglary as well as for the crime which he committed in the course of the burglary. For example, if X broke into a building and set it on fire, he could be prosecuted for burglary and arson.
In some jurisdictions of the criminal justice system, prosecution of burglary cases may depend on whether or not the structure unlawfully entered was inhabited or not. If the structure was abandoned, it may be a defense for the defendant.
Defending your Property
Occupants of a structure during a burglary should be aware that state laws vary on the extent of self defense that is permissible. Under common law, the Castle Doctrine generally allows a person to stay in his home and defend himself if an intruder has unlawfully or forcibly entered the home, so long as the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death upon an occupant of the home. Variations of the Castle Doctrine run throughout many states, and in some states it is extended to the workplace. Armed burglary of an inhabited office, for example, may trigger the Castle Doctrine in some states.
Generally speaking, however, outside of the special circumstances of a home invasion, states follow the Duty to Retreat doctrine, which requires occupants to retreat from the building or structure and verbally announce any intent to use deadly force, before they can be legally justified the use of force through self defense.
Please see an attorney if you have questions about what your state expressly allows. Burglary cases carry serious penalties.