Award-Winning Philadelphia Burglary Lawyers | Fighting Burglary Charges in PA and NJ
We Can Help Defend Against Burglary Charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
If you are facing burglary charges in PA or NJ, we can help. Our Philadelphia burglary lawyers and criminal defense attorneys have successfully defended against burglary allegations involving both residential and commercial properties. We have successfully defended thousands of criminal cases, winning both pre-trial dismissals and acquittals at trial. If you or a loved one are facing burglary charges, call us at 267-225-2545 to discuss your case and how we can help.
Is Burglary a Felony in Pennsylvania?
Burglary is always graded as a felony charge under Pennsylvania law. There are various types of trespassing charges such as defiant trespass which may be graded as misdemeanors, but Burglary is never less than a felony of the second degree. It may be properly graded as a first or second degree felony depending on whether the property allegedly burglarized was a residential property or a commercial property and whether someone was present at the time of entry.
The charge is a felony of the first degree when:
the burglary is of a house or structure adapted for overnight accommodation, OR
there is a person present at the time of the burglary.
If the allegations involve a store or other commercial property and there is no one present at the time of the entry, then the charge would only be a second degree felony.
The manner in which the crime was allegedly committed has no bearing on the gradation of the charge. This means that there is no requirement that the defendant must have been armed for a burglary to be a first degree felony, and there is also no requirement that the burglar actually commit any type of breaking and entering. A defendant who gains access to a building through deceit or some type of trick could be liable for a first degree felony despite the fact that no force was involved in the entry. Further, although burglary almost always involves a building or occupied structure, it is possible for a defendant to be charged when the defendant allegedly breaks into a gated, commercial lot with the intent to commit a crime once inside the lot.
What is a Burglary in Pennsylvania?
The words burglary and robbery are often used interchangeably, but they are very different crimes. Burglary involves committing a crime in a building or occupied structure, while robbery involves committing a theft by taking property from a person. It is possible to commit both a robbery and a burglary at the same time because a person could break into a building with the intent to commit a robbery once inside. In that case, the defendant would be properly charged with both offenses.
In order to convict a defendant of burglary, the prosecution must be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that:
The defendant entered a building or occupied structure,
Without permission, and
The defendant intended to commit a crime therein at the time that the defendant entered the building.
The intent to commit a crime therein element of the statute can be satisfied by showing that the defendant had the intent to commit any crime. The Commonwealth does not have to show that the defendant intended to steal something or commit some type of the. For example, if you break into someone's house with the intent to assault the person, you could be guilty even though you did not intend to steal anything. The prosecution only has to prove that the defendant intended to commit some sort of crime once inside the building - not that the defendant actually intended to steal something. The prosecution does not always have to prove the specific crime that the defendant intended to commit; they must prove only that the defendant intended to commit some crime other than the entry into the building itself.
Defenses to Burglary Charges
There are often defenses in burglary cases, and our attorneys have successfully defended countless cases with pre-trial motions and at trial. Each case is different, but potential defenses to the charges in your case may include:
Sufficiency of the Evidence. The law requires the Commonwealth to prove each element of the statute beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, it is possible to challenge the "intent to commit a crime therein" portion of the statute. Burglary requires more than just the entry into a building. It also requires that the defendant intended to commit a crime therein at the time that the defendant entered the building. If the prosecution can show only that the defendant entered or attempted to enter the property, then the prosecution would only be able to show that the defendant committed a criminal trespass, which is a much less serious offense. Criminal trespass is still a felony, but the sentencing guidelines for criminal trespass are much lower than for Burglary, and it is not considered a crime of violence of Pennsylvania's three strikes law. In many cases, our attorneys have successfully proven to judges and juries that the defendant did not intend to commit a crime once inside the building and therefore the charge should be dismissed.
Abandonment. The burglary statute specifically provides the defense of abandonment. If the property is an abandoned property, then the Commonwealth will not be able to obtain a conviction. Abandonment is a difficult issue because in most cases, the Commonwealth will attempt to track down the owner of record to show that although the property was in bad condition, someone still owned it. It may still be possible to prove abandonment under these circumstances. If the owner of the property has not maintained the property, has not been there for years, and has not paid the property taxes, a judge or jury could find the property to be abandoned despite the fact that someone still technically owns it on the books.
Open to the Public. The statute requires the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant did not have permission to enter the building. It is not a burglary to enter a building with permission and the intent to commit a crime therein. Therefore, there are often issues of permission when the defendant is caught committing a theft or other crime in a generally public building like a store or a hospital. In those cases, we may be able to have the lead charge dismissed if we can show that a reasonable person would have believed the building to be open to the public. Additionally, if the defendant held a mistaken believe that the defendant had permission to enter the building, that could negate the intent element of the charge.
The Intent to Commit a Crime Developed Once Inside. Many cases begin with the defendant actually having permission to enter a building or not originally intending to commit a crime therein at the time of entry into the building and then some sort of fight breaking out inside. If the defendant formed the intent to commit a crime once already inside the building, then the defendant would not be properly charged with burglary. Instead, the defendant should face only the charges related to the conduct that took place inside.
Misidentification of the Burglar. Burglary cases and robbery cases are often similar in that they both frequently involve issues of eyewitness identification and forensic evidence such as DNA and fingerprints. In many cases, the homeowner or store owner arrives home or to work only to find that someone broke into the location and took something. A burglary has committed, but the burglar is long gone. In that situation, the police will often dust for fingerprints or attempt to locate DNA samples. If the fingerprints or DNA samples can be matched to someone in the system, then the police will likely charge that person with burglary, and this often happens even when the detective does not have any other evidence. The police may also canvass the neighborhood to locate potential witnesses who may have seen something suspicious, and sometimes a witness's description may lead to the arrest of the defendant.
Challenges to Forensic Evidence. Our criminal defense lawyers have extensive experience in challenging both the use of forensic evidence and eyewitness identifications. We have had success even in cases involving forensic evidence like DNA and fingerprints. In some cases, it may be necessary to have an independent expert review the accuracy of the forensic evidence and double check the police lab's work. Even the police fingerprint examiner will often agree that fingerprints are more of an art than an actual science. Although most people believe fingerprints are matched automatically through the use of computers, in reality, computers simply narrow the field of potential suspects and then the fingerprint examiner conducts his or her own examination to subjectively determine whether or not there is an actual match. This means that fingerprint "matches" are not nearly as conclusive as they sound because they depend on the reliability, skill, and training of the actual fingerprint examiner. Even then, the examiner's opinion is subjective. Many forms of forensic science have recently come under scrutiny even from prosecutor's offices such as the Department of Justice because they simply are not reliable, and our criminal defense lawyers are well versed on how to challenge forensic evidence in court.
Innocent Explanations for Forensic Evidence. There may also be innocent explanations for how the DNA or fingerprints ended up at the scene. In most cases, the Commonwealth's witnesses will simply not be able to testify when the DNA or fingerprints were left there, meaning that the prosecutor will be unable to say that they were left there at the time of the incident. This leaves room for the possibility that the defendant was in the property at some other time for some other reason or that the defendant came into contact with the item that had DNA or fingerprints on it before the item was brought into the building.
Unreliable Identification Witnesses. Likewise, we also have a proven track record of success in challenging eyewitness identifications through the use of pre-trial lineup motions and motions to suppress, cross examination based on differences in the description given and the physical characteristics of the defendant arrested, or even through the use of expert testimony on the many problems inherent in eyewitness identifications
Given the seriousness of the offense and the real potential for incarceration, it is critical that anyone charged with burglary in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys of Goldstein Mehta LLC immediately.
Jail Sentences for Burglary
Burglary is a particularly serious charge because the burglary of a residence when someone is home is considered a crime of violence, and therefore it can constitute a strike for purposes of Pennsylvania's three strikes mandatory minimum law. If the defendant has previously been convicted of certain crimes of violence, first degree felony burglary could carry a mandatory minimum of 10-20 years of incarceration for a second strike and 25 to 50 years in prison for a third strike. Even where the defendant does not have prior burglary convictions, the sentencing guidelines suggest jail time for most first degree felony burglaries and many second degree felony charges depending on the defendant's record. Under Pennsylvania sentencing laws, first degree felonies are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and second degree felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The sentencing guidelines for convictions are particularly steep when the defendant is convicted of breaking into a property in which someone is present.
What To Do If You Are Facing Burglary Charges
The Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys of Goldstein Mehta LLC have extensive experience and a proven track record of success in defending against burglary and other related charges such as criminal trespass and theft. When you hire us, we will use that experience to fight for you. We have won motions for lineups, pre-trial motions to suppress identification and physical evidence, obtained dismissals at preliminary hearings, and successfully convinced judges and juries of the defendant's innocence by pointing out inaccuracies in the eyewitness' or complainant's testimony. If you are facing criminal charges, we need to start investigating your case right away. Valuable evidence such as surveillance camera footage or alibi testimony could be lost due to delay. Start planning your defense today. Call 267-225-2545 for a free criminal defense strategy session with one of our Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers.
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The Burglary Statute
§ 3502. Burglary.
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits the offense of burglary if, with the intent to commit a crime therein, the person:
(1) enters a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof that is adapted for overnight accommodations in which at the time of the offense any person is present;
(2) enters a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof that is adapted for overnight accommodations in which at the time of the offense no person is present;
(3) enters a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof that is not adapted for overnight accommodations in which at the time of the offense any person is present; or
(4) enters a building or occupied structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof that is not adapted for overnight accommodations in which at the time of the offense no person is present.
(b) Defense.--It is a defense to prosecution for burglary if any of the following exists at the time of the commission of the offense:
(1) The building or structure was abandoned.
(2) The premises are open to the public.
(3) The actor is licensed or privileged to enter.
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), burglary is a felony of the first degree.
(2) As follows:
(i) Except under subparagraph (ii), an offense under subsection (a)(4) is a felony of the second degree.
(ii) If the actor's intent upon entering the building, structure or portion under subparagraph (i) is to commit theft of a controlled substance or designer drug as those terms are defined in section 2 of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, burglary is a felony of the first degree.
(d) Multiple convictions.--A person may not be sentenced both for burglary and for the offense which it was his intent to commit after the burglarious entry or for an attempt to commit that offense, unless the additional offense constitutes a felony of the first or second degree.