What is burglary?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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While elements of burglary vary from state to state, burglary was traditionally defined as breaking and entering into the dwelling of another at nighttime with the intent to commit a felony.

In many states this has been expanded to include entry into any form of building or structure or into any building, vehicle, or vessel used as a residence, at any time of day or night, with the intent to commit a theft, or another crime. In other states, the crime is complete the moment a person crosses the threshold of the building with the intent to commit a crime. Therefore, it may be a defense to burglary that the thief entered a store to shop but only decided to steal something once inside. If the thief brought an extra bag into the store or had an overcoat outfitted with hooks or extra pockets in the lining to store stolen merchandise, that intent to steal will be easier to prove.

In some areas, burglary can only be committed in a dwelling, while in others it can be committed in a business premise, like a store or a warehouse. In some states there must be an intent to commit a felony, while in others the intent to commit any theft or other crime is enough. In most states, theft is only a felony if the value of goods stolen is over a certain amount. So someone entering a house to steal a jar of change valued at $40 might not have committed burglary in some states, only theft. Entering a store and stealing $1.98 worth of goods results in two crimes being committed in under some state law: a misdemeanor theft and a felony burglary.

“Breaking and entering,” another term for burglary, must involve some sort of force; however, depending on the state, this can be defined loosely, as in the force required to open an unlocked door, or entering by means of fraud, as in telling the person in a locked hotel room that it is room service at the door, when it is not. Many states have eliminated any requirement for breaking or force used in entry.

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