Robbery vs Burglary Charges & Laws

The term "breaking and entering" is probably one that many people have heard of thanks to its popularity in today's pop culture references. In most circumstances, the phrase is used to refer to the use of force to gain entry into a structure, such as when a burglar damages a window in order to enter someone else's house to steal.

Breaking and entering is a very specific form of property crime that involves a few crucial elements of proof, including:

  • The existence of unauthorized entry
  • Damage to a residence or building
  • The use of force, deceit, or property damage

Usually, there is also some degree of theft involved in breaking and entering crimes. Note that simply breaking a window or door doesn't necessarily mean that someone will be found guilty of breaking and entering. However, an attempt to deceive a security guard so as to gain access without authorization into an area might be classed as breaking and entering.

In most jurisdictions, the crime of breaking and entering is simply referred to as burglary, which is a concept explored further below.

Examples of Breaking and Entering

Very few states retain the crime called breaking and entering and regard it as a separate crime to the crime of burglary. Those that do retain breaking and entering charges use them to refer to an action used to commit forced entry to a building that has not been covered by the statute for burglary. For instance, in Massachusetts, burglary is only committed in a dwelling where a person sleeps or lives, such as an apartment or house. In other words, if someone were to break into another structure or building, that person would be charged with breaking and entering, rather than burglary.

Historically, burglary has been defined as a crime that involves breaking and entering into a home with the intent to commit further felony, such as theft. Today, however, most states have simply broadened their definition of burglary to include almost any illegal entry into any building during the day or night, without permission, and with intent to commit a crime once inside.

Interestingly, for burglary charges to lead to a successful conviction, it's worth noting that someone who breaks into a home or building with the intent to steal something can be guilty of burglary even though that person may not actually end up stealing something. There is no need for the intended crime to occur for burglary to have been conducted.

Under traditional definitions, in order to convict a person with the crime of breaking and entering, it must be proven that force needed to be used on some part of the building - usually a window or door - so as to allow the individual to enter. Under today's laws, using any amount of force to enter a building will constitute as breaking and entering, even if this simply means raising a window that has been partially left open and climbing through it to gain entry.

In some states, the crime of breaking and entering also extends to vending machines, safes, vehicles, and other similar containers. In some states, it may even be a crime for an individual to forcibly find his or her way within a parking meter. In these states, the crime may either be referred to simply as breaking and entering, or it may be named forcible entry, unlawful entry, or something similar. Usually, this particular crime will be regarded with a much less serious penalty than the crime of burglary.

Breaking and Entering Punishment

The punishments for breaking and entering in many cases can vary according to the laws of the state. However, it's worth noting that, in general, the crime of breaking and entering is one that is conducted against property rather than people, and as such the typical penalties will usually include a period of jail time that is usually less than one year, a fine, and some form of mandatory criminal restitution, such as the order to repay the value of whatever item might have been broken, stolen, or damaged.

In some cases, the penalties that are imposed for breaking and entering cases will depend on whether the case is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. For instance, a conviction for a misdemeanor level of breaking and entering is generally punishable by something like 120 days in jail, while someone who is convicted of breaking and entering on a felony level could spend up to 25 months in jail. Of course, an experienced defense lawyer in these circumstances may be able to reduce the length of jail time, or help an individual to avoid imprisonment completely.

Most of the time, it is quite rare for a charge of breaking and entering to be made at the felony level. However, it can happen when severe property damage is involved in the break-in, or if there is a victim involved that suffered some sort of severe injury during the process of the breaking and entering crime being committed. Furthermore, it's worth noting that charges can change according to what happened on the premises in question after the alleged crime originally took place.

Breaking and Entering Defenses

For those who are facing a charge of breaking and entering, just like with many other aspects of law, it's worth noting that they can often show some kind of defense to help them protect themselves from a fine or jail time. There are many types of defenses against breaking and entering charges that can be discussed with you by your criminal lawyer, depending on the circumstances surrounding your specific incident. A common defense in cases of breaking and entering is the defense of consent. This means that if the owner of the property has previously issued consent to allow you to enter the property, then this cannot be classed as breaking and entering. A common occurrence in this case is when a person attempts to forcibly enter his or her own home after accidentally locking himself or herself out and a neighbor calls the police thinking it is somebody else who is trying to enter.

Another particularly common defense for cases of breaking and entering involves the concept of mistaken identity, which is when a person argues that there is not enough evidence to identify him or her as responsible for the crime in the first place.

Other potential defenses might include the defense of intoxication, in which your lawyer will argue that you were not in your right mind when the crime took place, and other standard defenses.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged

As with most crimes, it is important to remember that if you ever find yourself in a position wherein you are charged with the crime of breaking and entering, you will need to seek help as quickly as possible. A conviction can lead to serious criminal penalties, and damage to your record and possibly your future. In most cases, your best bet is to speak to a criminal lawyer who has specific experience in handling your particular type of case, or has battled against convictions of breaking and entering, theft, and burglary in the past.

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