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What is Felony Burglary?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon352739 — On Oct 24, 2013

@Indigo: You're right. My son's best friend is being charged with burglary because he stole parts off an air conditioner of a vacant home. Then he was charged with the additional crime of being in possession of stolen property. He was just arrested and we don't know what will happen until he goes to court. Young and dumb, but should he be penalized with a felony charge on his record for the rest of his life? I'm not sure the crime fits the penalty.

By browncoat — On Jun 05, 2011

@indigomoth - I understand the point you are making and to some extent I agree. The idea that a young person who happens to notice an open door and does something stupid (perhaps out of desperation) can be had up on a felony charge is scary.

But, having your house robbed is absolutely awful. Even what seems like a small crime where they just take money is bad, if they take precious items like family jewelry it is devastating, and that's not even mentioning if they trash the place, like we had done to us once.

And yes it was teenagers who did it and they managed to mostly get away with a slap on the wrist.

This kind of violation can cause real emotional trauma for the people who own the house. It shouldn't be taken lightly. It shouldn't be blown out of proportion either, but that's when you rely on the judge to make the right call.

By indigomoth — On Jun 03, 2011

I think that it is a little bit scary that burglary is automatically considered to be a felony now. Often it seems to be kids who do it, maybe teenagers who think it will be funny, or a quick way to make a little bit of cash, without realizing the harm it can do.

I hope that these kids, who are mostly just young and dumb, don't get penalized for the rest of their lives for making a mistake.

I know it is a crime, but in some cases I think it should be treated as a misdemeanor. Otherwise it could get blown out of proportion for the people involved.

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