Police writing report

What Constitutes Burglary and Why Is It Misunderstood?

Burglary is a common property crime in Pennsylvania. Many people confuse burglary with other property crimes that are related. If you are facing burglary charges, you should get help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law. We can review your case and talk to you about the defenses that might be available to you. Here is some information about burglaries, trespasses, and home invasions and how they are related to each other.

What is a burglary in Pennsylvania?

Burglary is defined under 18 Pa. C.S. § 3502. Under this law, a burglary occurs when a person enters a building or occupied structure illegally while having the intent to commit a crime inside. A burglary can be charged whether a person was present or not.

The prosecutor is required to prove the elements of a burglary offense beyond a reasonable doubt if the case is taken to trial. The prosecutor will be required to show that the defendant entered the building and did so while having the intent to commit a different crime inside. If the prosecutor is unable to prove one of the elements of a burglary offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor might be able to win a conviction for a different crime such as trespass. However, he or she will not be able to secure a conviction for burglary.

Entry into a building

Entry into a building or occupied structure is the first element of a burglary offense. To be convicted, you will have to have entered the building or structure without permission from the property’s owner or operator. Pennsylvania does not include situations in which defendants legally enter buildings but remain inside after they should have left in the burglary law. For example, a person who lawfully entered a department store while the store was opened and hid inside to steal something after the store closes does not meet the unlawful entry element of a burglary offense in Pennsylvania.

Unlawful entry with the intent to commit a crime

The intent to commit a crime following the unlawful entry into a building is the second element of a burglary offense that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. This element concerns the state of mind of the defendant at the time that he or she illegally entered the building or structure. To be convicted of a burglary offense, you must have decided to commit a criminal offense and entered the building illegally to do so. You do not have to be successful in committing the intended crime. If you unlawfully enter a building with criminal intent, the two elements of burglary will be met, and you may be convicted.

Penalties for burglary

Burglary is a felony offense. The degree of the offense will vary, depending on the circumstances of the offense. For instance, if another person was inside the building at the time of the burglary, it will be a first-degree felony. If no one was present at the time, and the building was not a residence, it will be a second-degree felony.

Statutory defenses to burglary

The burglary statute contains three defenses, including the following:

  • The building was abandoned
  • The building was open to the public at the time of entry or
  • The defendant was privileged or licensed to enter.

In addition to the statutory defenses, there may be others available to you. Your attorney can help to identify possible defenses in your case.

Home invasion vs. burglary

A home invasion is not separate from a burglary. Instead, it specifically refers to a burglary that happens in a home. A home invasion has the same elements of a burglary but is punished more harshly. If someone was at home during the invasion, it is a first-degree felony.

Possessing burglary tools

Pennsylvania law also makes it illegal to possess burglary tools to use them or to knowingly allow someone else to use them in a burglary. Some examples of burglary tools include crowbars or false keys to illegally enter a room or an object like a safe. Under 18 Pa. C.S. § 4904, a conviction for possession of burglary tools can result in up to three years in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both imprisonment and a fine.

Criminal trespass vs. burglary

Criminal trespass in Pennsylvania is defined in 18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3503. It occurs when someone unlawfully enters private property without permission or authority to do so. Trespass might occur when someone has been ordered by a court to stay away from the property, when someone enters despite a clearly posted sign, when someone enters through a locked gate, or by using subterfuge to enter.

someone unlawfully enters private property without permission

There are several types of criminal trespass in Pennsylvania that depend on the intent of the defendant and the type of property. A defiant trespass occurs when someone enters a property in spite of actual notice prohibiting trespassing. A simple trespass occurs when someone enters the private property to cause damage or to harass the owner. Agricultural trespass occurs when someone enters the land to bother the owner or cause damage. Finally, agricultural biosecurity trespass involves trespassing into areas of agricultural biosecurity. The penalties for trespass vary and can include jail or prison, a fine, or both.

In some burglary cases, a prosecutor might charge a burglary offense together with criminal trespass. The prosecutor might do this to try to secure a conviction if the prosecutor has trouble proving the intent element of the burglary crime.

Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer

If you are facing charges of burglary, trespass, possession of burglary tools, or something else, you should get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer at DiCindio Law can evaluate the evidence in your case and discuss the different options that you might have. Schedule a consultation by contacting us online or calling us at 610.430.3535.