Burglary, in law, the crime of breaking into and entering the dwelling of another with felonious intent, whether or not the felony is actually perpetrated. English common law defined burglary as housebreaking at night only; in the United States, however, statutes vary from state to state. Some retain the common-law definition; others include housebreaking by day. To constitute burglary, breaking and entering must be inferred as, for example, gaining admission through a trick or threat or by raising a window and putting the hand inside with intent to steal, without bodily entrance.
In the U.S. other variables that affect the nature of the crime and influence the punishment include the type of structure involved (for example, whether it is a home, a store, or an office), whether the structure is occupied at the time of entry, the means used to obtain entry, the presence or absence of a weapon on the intruder, and the crime committed or intended after entry. In most of the U.S., entry into a movable structure, such as a train or boat or an airplane, with intent to commit a felony also constitutes burglary. Although burglary is usually committed for the purpose of robbery, it may be charged against other offenders, including murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. (1)
Notes and References
Criminal Law: Crimes Against the Habitation Burglary
Introduction to Burglary
The common law definition of burglary is breaking and entering the dwelling house of another in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony therein. The requirement of breaking is satisfied by forcing open a locked door or window, by opening a closed but unlocked door or window, or even by opening wider a partly closed door or window to obtain entry. If the person had the resident’s consent to enter, then the use of force to gain entry is not a breaking. Entering is satisfied by a person’s passing entirely through the door, window, or other opening by putting any portion of the body through or even by holding a pole or other item through the opening while angling for some property inside.
A dwelling house includes outbuildings in the area surrounding a house. To be the subject of burglary, the structure must be the dwelling of someone other than the accused person. The intended felony is usually grand larceny, but it may be murder, rape, arson, or one of the other felonies. A person has the required intent to commit a felony if he or she intends to steal whatever can be found, even if in fact there is nothing of value in the dwelling. A person is guilty of burglary even if arrested before he or she can commit the felony, as burglary is complete upon breaking and entering with the requisite intent.
Modern statutes have enlarged the scope of the common law definition of burglary in various ways. They sometimes eliminate the requirement of a breaking, so that an entry without a breaking may still constitute burglary. Some statutes consider gaining entry by means of fraud, threat, or intimidation to be constructive breaking-that is, the legal equivalent of forceful breaking. Modern statutes also typically provide that breaking into certain nonbuildings-such as railroad cars, automobiles, and boats-constitutes burglary. Most modern statutes have abandoned the requirement that the breaking and entering occur at night. Finally, some statutes provide that a person commits burglary if he or she has an intention to commit a misdemeanor-rather than an intention to commit a felony-after breaking and entering.” (1)
Notes and References
- Information about Burglary in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
Guide to Burglary
In this Section
Crimes Against Property (including Larceny, Embezzlement, False Pretenses, Property Robbery, Extortion, Receiving Stolen Property and Forgery) and Crimes Against the Habitation (Arson and Burglary).
The Legal History of Burglary in English Common Law
This section provides an overview of Burglary in English Common Law
- Legal Biography
- Legal Traditions
- Historical Laws
- History of Law
- Burglary in English Common Law in the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford University Press)
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Political and Legal History (Oxford University Press)
- Burglary in English Common Law in the Dictionary of Concepts in History, by Harry Ritter
- A Short History of Western Legal Theory, by John Kelly