Breaking and Entering

The phrase “breaking and entering” used to go hand in hand with burglary. If someone attempted to enter a building without permission, and with the intention of committing a crime, he could be charged with burglary, and breaking and entering was an element of the crime. Today, no “breaking” is required to charge someone with burglary. Any “entering” into a building that is without permission, and is in anticipation of committing a crime, can be considered burglary. To explore this concept, consider the following breaking and entering definition.

Definition of Breaking and Entering

Noun

  1. The act of forcing one’s way into a building without permission, and with the intent to commit a crime.

Origin

1790-1800

What is Breaking and Entering

The phrase “breaking and entering” was once used to define the crime of burglary. Specifically, the phrase was used to describe someone’s forced entry into another person’s home during the night and with the intention to commit a felony. Today, however, most states have broadened the definition of burglary. Now, the crime consists of any entry into a building, day or night, without permission, and with the intention to commit a crime while inside. The entry does not necessarily need to be “forced” to be considered criminal.

For example, “breaking and entering” used to define a situation wherein a person broke a window to gain access to a store in the middle of the night, with intentions of stealing that store’s goods. Now, the intended crime (in this case, the theft of the store’s goods) does not have to be committed for the crime to be considered a burglary. The moment the offender enters the building with the intent to commit a crime, he can be criminally charged with burglary.

For instance, suppose Steve enters Stacy’s house with the intent to steal her diamond ring. Stacy, however, has chosen to wear the ring out of the house, and so when Steve enters her home through her unlocked front door, he finds that the ring is not there. Steve leaves the premises and returns to his own home. Despite the fact that Stacy will probably never even know that Steve was in her home while she was out, Steve has still committed burglary by entering the house without Stacy’s permission, and with the intention of committing a crime.

Burglary vs. Breaking and Entering

It used to be that, to convict someone of burglary, the prosecution had to prove that the defendant forced his way into the building, or that he was guilty of breaking into the building, and then entering it. This could mean that he broke a window or perhaps damaged a door to gain access to the building. Today, however, using any amount of force, no matter how small, can be considered breaking and entering. This can include lifting a window that has already been left partially open, and then crawling through it and into the building.

People have even been convicted of burglary without using any force at all. Simply walking through an unlocked or open door can be enough, so long as the entry was done without permission, and with the intent to commit a crime. Depending on the state, however, a criminal may be prosecuted more severely for a forced entry burglary than a burglary that was not the result of forced entry.

Interestingly, while it is often believed that burglary is a term used to describe a crime involving theft, the charge of burglary was actually developed with the intention of protecting a person’s interest in his home and preventing violence. The creation of the burglary charge had nothing to do with theft. This is what makes burglary different from robbery and other crimes that were created to criminalize the taking of another’s property. Burglary is meant to protect someone’s home, and to protect the homeowner against the possible violence that can result from finding an intruder in one’s home.

For example:

Paul’s girlfriend, Mary, broke up with him, saying she just couldn’t deal with his temper anymore. One day, Paul sees Mary talking to another guy, and becomes angry. A couple of hours later, Paul goes looking for Mary at her parents’ home, and discovers that the “new guy” is there with Mary.

Enraged, Paul barges into the home – through the unlocked front door – and begins threatening the new guy. Paul begins throwing things, pulling pictures and decorations off the walls and tables, to hurl at the new guy, and through a window. When Paul realizes Mary has picked up the phone and is calling 9-1-1, he gets back in his car and drives away.

The police catch up with Paul later that day and arrest him on charges of burglary – even though he didn’t steal anything. In this example of breaking and entering, Paul forced his way into the home, uninvited, for the purpose of assaulting the new guy, which is a crime.

Is Breaking and Entering a Felony

Breaking and entering is typically classified as a misdemeanor, as opposed to burglary, which is usually classified as a felony. Breaking and entering is considered to be more similar to criminal trespassing. Penalties for misdemeanors usually include a jail sentence of up to one year, as well as fines, while penalties for felonies are more severe.

However, while breaking and entering is the lesser of the two crimes, there are situations wherein breaking and entering can be charged as a felony. For example, breaking and entering might result in significant property damage, or the serious injury of another person. Heavier charges may also be levied depending on the crimes that occurred on the premises after the act of breaking and entering has already been committed.

Defense to Breaking and Entering

There do exist defenses to breaking and entering. For instance, one such defense is that of consent. If the owner of the premises consents to the alleged offender being on his property, then the alleged offender cannot be charged with breaking and entering.

Another defense to breaking and entering is that of mistake. If the alleged offender breaks into another person’s property, such as a car, the alleged offender may have a defense if he clearly believed he was entering his own property. The car may have looked very similar to his own at a quick glance, and after having difficulties getting into what he thought was his own car, the person realizes it’s not his car after all. Defenses to breaking and entering depend heavily on the facts involved in each individual case.

Real Breaking and Entering Example

Brian Donovan Meade, a Michigan resident, was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted on the charge of breaking and entering. He was also ordered to pay more than $8,000 in restitution to the victims of his crimes. Authorities were lead to Meade’s home thanks to security cameras that had been installed on the premises of The Beat Lab, a music school from which Meade had stolen electronics.

This was not Meade’s first rodeo: he had already spent time in prison back in 2004 and 2009 on separate charges. In 2004, he was convicted of felony arson, and in 2009, he was convicted of felony breaking and entering. Despite being a habitual offender, Meade made a plea deal with the prosecution that resulted in the dropping of a second charge of breaking and entering, as well as a possession charge for the burglary tools, and a charge of concealing stolen property.

It was because Meade was a habitual offender, however, that the 13th Circuit Court Judge, Thomas G. Power, handed down such a seemingly harsh 60-month sentence. Not only was the Judge influenced by Meade’s prior jail terms, but Meade had also been suspected of breaking and entering into several businesses in the Traverse County area. Ten years was the maximum sentence that Meade could have received in this case. Power stated that he would have been more sympathetic to Meade if this was a single incident, but because Meade was such a repetitive offender, he deserved the harsher sentence.

The owner of The Beat Lab told the court that Meade’s actions had “wreaked havoc on [his] personal life and [his] business.” He noted that, while the items Meade had stolen could be replaced, the time it took to earn them – along with the files of the school’s students, which included thousands of hours of recordings – were gone forever.

Meade pleaded guilty to one count of breaking and entering about two months after he was arrested, following the county sheriff’s search of his home. During the raid, the deputies recovered two computers, a 40-inch television, an iPhone 7, and a pry bar which was believed to have been used as a tool to help Meade break into local businesses. The belief was that Meade had stolen the items during a string of break-ins in 2016, including at least two break-ins at The Beat Lab.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Due Process – The fundamental, constitutional right to fair legal proceedings in which all parties will be given notice of the proceedings, and have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Jury – A group of people sworn to render a verdict in a trial, based on evidence presented.
  • Prosecution – The lawyer(s) who argue that a person who is being accused of a crime is guilty.
  • Restitution – The restoration of rights or property previously taken away or surrendered; reparation made by giving compensation for loss or injury caused by wrongdoing.
  • Verdict – A decision upon the conclusion of a civil or criminal trial.

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