Burglary is typically defined as the unlawful entry into a structure with the intent to commit a crime inside. There is a common misconception that burglary occurs when someone unlawfully enters a structure to commit a theft. In reality, the commission of any crime while illegally in a structure can lead to a burglary conviction.
In Maryland, burglary is viewed in degrees – first, second, third, and fourth. First, second, and third degree burglary are all felonies with the most serious being burglary in the first-degree. Fourth degree burglary is a misdemeanor.
First degree burglary is the most serious of these charges, and occurs when a person breaks and enters into the dwelling of another with the intent to commit theft or a crime of violence. Generally, a dwelling is a place where someone sleeps. If convicted, the maximum possible penalty is 20 years if the person intended to steal, or 25 years if they intended to commit a crime of violence.
Second degree burglary occurs when a person breaks into the “storehouse” of another person with the intent of committing a theft, a crime of violence, arson in the second degree, or theft of a firearm. A storehouse includes, but is not limited to, a building, barn, stable, trailer, or railroad car. If convicted of intending to steal a firearm, the maximum penalty is 20 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Otherwise, the maximum penalty for second degree burglary is 15 years.
A conviction for third degree burglary can happen when a person breaks and enters into the dwelling of another with the intent to commit a crime, generally. The maximum possible sentence for third degree burglary is 10 years.
Finally, burglary in the fourth degree occurs when a person breaks into the dwelling or storehouse of another, whether or not there is intent to commit a crime of any type. Burglary in the fourth degree also includes being in or on the yard, garden, or other area belonging to the dwelling or storehouse of another with the intent to commit theft. Possession of burglar tools – which includes a picklock, key, crowbar, or burning devices, to name a few – with the intent to commit a burglary can also lead to a conviction for fourth degree burglary. The maximum penalty for fourth degree burglary, if convicted, is 3 years.
All degrees of burglary require that the person charged be shown to have broken and entered into a place that they were not supposed to be in – someone’s home, place of business, or an attachment, such as a storage shed. The element of “breaking” does not mean that the accused had to break a window to get in or kick the door in. A breaking could be found where one just opened an unlocked door.
A common defense for a person charged with the crime of burglary is that he or she honestly and reasonably believed that they could be in the home or place of business they were accused of entering. A good criminal defense attorney is going to listen carefully to the facts and circumstances giving rise to the alleged crime. It is in the close listening of the skilled defense attorney that the defense is often found.