Understanding the Elements of Burglary
Burglary is usually defined as the unlawful entry into any structure with an intent to commit a crime. The structure doesn’t have to be a home or business, and the crime intended doesn’t have to involve stealing. Physically breaking into the structure is also not required; simply trespassing through an open entrance can constitute burglary charges. In contrast to robbery, which involves forcefully taking another’s property, burglary often occurs when the victim is away from the structure.
Understanding More About Burglary
Entering a private structure with the intent to steal but leaving empty-handed because there was nothing inside qualifies as burglary. The crime of burglary was originally developed under common law centuries ago, and states have incorporated it into penal codes with some modifications. While common law defined burglary as occurring at the dwelling of another at night, states today have broadened the definition to include businesses and illegal entries during daytime hours as well.
Laws against burglary were originally developed to prevent violence and people’s homes–not target theft. There are other laws designed to criminalize taking another’s property, but burglary is designed to protect the sanctity of the dwelling, a structure where people frequent, and shield residents from potentially violent encounters with intruders.
The Elements of Burglary
States generally use the same definition to identify burglary. All of the elements must be present to convict someone of burglary charges. The elements of burglary include an unauthorized entry, involving a building or occupied structure, with the intent to commit a crime.
The first element of a burglary charge is an unlawful entry. The process of breaking into the structure may be actual or constructive. An actual break-in involves applying physical force to gain entry however slight the force may be. This may involve picking a lock, kicking in a door, or pushing open a door that is already slightly ajar. A constructive break-in involves using means other than physical force to gain unlawful entry, like fraud or blackmail.
To qualify as burglary, the entry must occur without the consent of the person occupying the structure. However a break-in occurs, and the perpetrator must gain entry into the structure to satisfy this element of burglary. The perpetrator does not have to walk inside the building to commit a burglary; minimum entry is sufficient. Simply sticking a hand through an open window may be enough to fulfill this element.
Structure or Dwelling
Originally, burglary statutes under common law were designed to protect people from anyone intruding into their homes. Under states’ modern definitions, someone can be convicted of breaking into almost any type of structure as long as certain conditions are met. Typically, the structure must be capable of sheltering people, animals, or property. Fenced-off areas outside may not apply. In addition, the entry must occur while the structure is closed to the public.
The perpetrator must’ve had the mental intent to commit a crime after breaking in. Theft is common, but other crimes can constitute burglary charges. The crime must occur separately in addition to the break-in. If the intent is premeditated before the unlawful entry, some states may levy first-degree burglary charges. If the criminal intent was formed after the entry, perpetrators may only face second-degree burglary charges.
Burglary Laws in New Jersey
The general form of burglary is a third-degree felony offense in New Jersey. Third-degree burglary charges in New Jersey are punishable by five to 10 in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. For defendants in northern New Jersey, finding a Morristown criminal defense lawyer may help with reducing burglary charges or negotiating a more favorable plea agreement.
Legal Assistance for Burglary Charges
If you are in need legal assistance to fight burglary or forced entry charges, contact Morristown criminal defense lawyer Gregg Wisotsky by phone at (973) 898-0161 to set up an appointment at our New Jersey office. You can also fill out and submit the form that is found on our website.