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What is Breaking and Entering?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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Breaking and entering involves using some type of force to go in or on private property, such as a house or office building, without the owner’s permission. The force used to enter the property can be minimal. For example, suppose that a group of teenagers opens a window in order to sneak into an empty warehouse, where they wish to hang out. If the teenagers do not have authorization to be in the warehouse, they would be guilty of breaking and entering.

As a general rule, breaking and entering can be an element of either burglary or trespassing. These acts are illegal and prohibited by both criminal and civil laws in most jurisdictions. Typically, burglary is considered a more serious offense, and it is a felony in most jurisdictions. Trespassing, on the other hand, is usually deemed a less serious offense, and it is considered a misdemeanor in many jurisdictions.

Traditionally, burglary required a person to break into and enter another person’s dwelling place, such as a house or apartment, at night with the intent to commit a felony once inside. For example, if John Doe broke into his neighbor’s house at night with the intent to steal all of his neighbor’s gold jewelry, he would be guilty of burglary. In order for burglary to occur, the breaking and entering must be done using some type of force. The force can be as negligible as opening a door or as substantial as breaking down a door with an axe. Some jurisdictions consider threats or coercion sufficient enough to establish breaking and entering.

Many jurisdictions have expanded on the traditional definition of burglary by removing some of the elements of the crime. For instance, the traditional definition of burglary requires the breaking and entering to occur between dusk and dawn. Some jurisdictions have eliminated this requirement and will consider the crime a burglary, even if it is committed during daylight hours. In other jurisdictions, burglary crimes are not limited to a dwelling place, and they can also be committed in churches, stores, and other businesses.

Breaking and entering can also be an element of trespassing. In general, a trespass occurs when a person goes on another person’s property without permission. Unlike a burglary, a trespass does not require intent to commit a crime. For instance, suppose that John Doe opened a window and climbed into his neighbor’s house without permission simply to watch television. While John Doe would not be guilty of burglary, he would be guilty of trespassing.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon316160 — On Jan 27, 2013

I just wanted a few answers. I have been suffering from postnatal depression. I went out with my friend and had a bit too much to drink and apparently I went back to my boyfriend's house, broke in and trashed his house a bit.

I was wanting to know if you could tell me if you think this will go to court and could I just get a fine or what do you think could happen?

By anon312068 — On Jan 05, 2013

What if the neighbor had the spare key to the house and gave it to the person that went into the house?

By truman12 — On Dec 29, 2012

The last part of this article kind of confuses me. Can a person be charged with breaking and entering for simply being on a piece of property that they are not supposed to be on? Or do you have to enter a structure in order to be charged?

By nextcorrea — On Dec 28, 2012

Does anyone have any statistics about the conviction rate for breaking and entering charges? Thanks!

By summing — On Dec 28, 2012
I have a friend who got himself into trouble a few weeks back. He had had a little too much to drink and basically tried to get into his neighbor's house instead of his own. When he found out that his key didn't work (because he was using it on the wrong house) he slipped in though an open window and went to sleep on the couch.

Well, the neighbor woke up and called the police and my friend ended up spending the night in jail. He is now being charged with breaking and entering. Considering the nature of the crime, is there a real risk that he could be penalized?

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