Felony burglary is the act of breaking into a building with the intention to commit some kind of crime. In contrast, misdemeanor burglary is breaking into a building without the intent to commit a crime, and it is generally applied to homeless people who break into unoccupied buildings so that they can sleep in them. There was a time when felony burglary required a specific intent to commit a felony, but newer laws have broadened the definition so that any crime can qualify. In some US states, a person committing this act can also be charged for breaking into a structure that is likely to be occupied at the time, partly because that is seen as a threatening act. The specific laws and penalties regarding this crime vary significantly in different places.
In general, the penalties for all the different types of felony burglary are separated by degrees. Aggravated burglary is commonly a first-degree felony, and it is usually defined by either an intent to cause harm or the act of carrying deadly weapons during the burglary. Second-degree felony burglary is generally defined as breaking into a structure with the intent to commit a crime while someone is inside or likely to be there. Breaking into a structure when it’s unoccupied and likely to be unoccupied constitutes a third-degree offense, and fourth-degree felony burglary is breaking into a structure that’s occupied without the intention to commit a crime.
There have been some major changes over the years regarding burglary laws in the US that greatly broaden definitions. One example would be the State v. Moore ruling in the state of Ohio, which made it so that even pushing open an unlocked door could be considered forceful enough to be burglary. There have also been adjustments to the definition of an “occupied structure” which have broadened it to the point where an actual occupant is not necessarily required in every locality. Since the variation in laws is so great in different areas, a person seeking legal advice about a burglary charge would be advised to carefully examine his local laws.
Felony burglary is generally regarded as a serious crime. Even fourth-degree burglary can result in prison sentences of up to 18 months in many locations, while aggravated burglary often brings prison sentences of up to 10 years, along with relatively large fines. Prison sentences can sometimes be significantly longer because of other crimes committed during the burglary, especially in aggravated burglary cases.