Many people are under the belief that burglary is a relatively simple crime to define and thereafter assume that all convicted burglars go to prison, but as any criminal lawyer will confirm, that is simply not how the law relating to burglary operates.
For a start, the definition of burglary is likely to come as a surprise to most people who have the misconception that burglary is simply someone breaking into a house and stealing something from it. That is far too simplistic a definition, and in reality, someone can be convicted of burglary, even if no items have been removed from the property.
If we focus on the definition as written in the law, the offence of burglary occurs when someone enters another person’s property, without their permission, and either commits a crime or is there with the intention to commit a crime.
This covers the act of entering with the intention of stealing property, but not actually doing so, with the obvious example being that they are discovered or caught before they had the chance to actually steal anything.
In order for someone to be convicted of burglary, the police must prove that they did so, and there are specifics which the law says must be proven. The most obvious one is that the accused had entered a property that belonged to someone else. The police must also show at the trial that the accused had no permission to be there, and in return your trial lawyers will defend you.
Depending on whether or not an offence took place, or the intention was there, the police must prove whichever was the case. So, they need evidence of the crime or they need to show that by their actions, or from other evidence such as tools or equipment, that the accused had an intention to commit a crime.
Just as the police and the prosecution need to try to prove the crime to achieve a conviction, the accused has the right to defend themselves, and there are some specific defenses that can be used. The first is that they actually had permission to be in the property from the person who owns it.
Other defenses against burglary include no evidence of any intent, that they had an honest right to be there, they were acting under duress, or that there has been a case of mistaken identity. The defence of insanity can also be used.
There are further circumstances which may exist that turn the crime from burglary into an ‘aggravated‘ crime, and thus making them a far more serious offence. Examples of aggravation include:
- Being armed or pretending to be armed
- In possession or pretending to be in possession of explosives
- Inducing bodily harm on someone
- Threatening to kill or injure someone
- Committing the burglary with an accomplice
- Keeping a person detained against their will
- Committing the burglary in the knowledge that there were others in the property
Ultimately, if a person is tried and convicted of a burglary, they are going to be punished but that will not always be a custodial sentence. Whether they spend time in prison, how long that time is, and the amount of any fine imposed, will vary considerably, based on the seriousness of the offence, and whether or not they are a repeat offender.
For a repeat offender who has had two previous convictions for burglary, the minimum sentence is 24 months, and this is imposed under a so-called ‘three strikes’ rule.
Whilst spending two years in prison might seem a long time, for more serious and aggravated burglaries the punishment can be many times that with prison sentences of between 14 and 20 years.