Burglary is a serious crime. At its least severe, a conviction can put someone in prison for five years. If you’ve been accused of burglary, you need an effective, credible defense to help maintain your freedom. Let’s take a moment to define exactly what burglary is and how Virginia punishes the crime.
People often associate burglary with theft. This is a false notion. Burglary is the act of illegally entering a space for the purpose of committing a crime. If someone breaks into a business to vandalize it, for example, that’s a form of burglary.
The intent to commit a crime is important to the overall charge. If someone, for instance, entered a space illegally, looked around, and left, that’s not burglary. It’s trespassing.
Virginia’s Burglary Penalties
In our state, there are many different categories of burglary. Each has unique features and punishments attached. Here are some common ones.
Statutory Burglary – Violent Felonies
Statutory burglary can happen any time of day, and it involves entering a building, including houses and businesses, or a public building. Your intent at the time of entry determines the punishment. If you break and enter with the intent to commit most serious felonies, such as rape or robbery, and you are found guilty, you can be punished with a Class 3 felony. These are serious offenses. A Class 3 felony can be penalized by 5 to 20 years in prison, with fines as high as $100,000. If you were armed with a deadly weapon, A Class 2 felony, the second-highest form of crime in the state, can give an offender life in prison with fines up to $100,000.
This crime takes place at night, and it involves a private residence. It is punished precisely the same as statutory burglary.
Burglary to Commit a Nonviolent Felony or Assault & Battery; Other Misdemeanors
If you enter into a building to steal, or to commit a non-violent felony, or to commit a misdemeanor assault and battery, you can be convicted of a felony and be given a prison sentence between 1 and 20 years.
Entering into a building to commit a misdemeanor other than assault and battery is still burglary, but it is punished as a Class 6 felony. You can get up to five years in prison for the burglary even though you wouldn’t be guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor if you completed the intended crime without going inside.
Burglary With a Deadly Weapon
Exactly as it sounds, this crime involves the use of a weapon. However, the weapon need not be used in the crime for an offender to be charged. If the alleged burglar is armed at all, regardless of whether he drew the weapon, his offense can be elevated to a Class 2 felony, which is punished with 20 years to life in prison and fines up to $100,000. For example, if you pointed your gun at someone with the intent to scare them, normally you would be guilty of a misdemeanor called brandishing a firearm. If you take that gun into a building for the express purpose of brandishing it at someone, you could be found guilty of armed burglary and potentially spend the rest of your life in prison.
Defenses Against Burglary
You Were in a Poor Mental State
Crimes should be punished only when they are willful. This is why prosecutors focus so much of their attention on intent. They want to prove that the offender knew what they were doing, and they purposely committed a crime.
Any number of things could cause someone to wander into the wrong property. Some illnesses, such as diabetes, can leave someone confused during a bad episode. They can enter the wrong place, completely unaware of what’s happening.
Even intoxication can be used as a credible defense. If you were heavily under the influence, you were not thinking rationally at the time. Famously, Robert Downey Jr. was arrested in the 90s for entering the wrong home and falling asleep while high. He suffered legal trouble for this act, but he wasn’t convicted of burglary.
An insanity plea may also be useful here. If someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis, they may not be in control of their own actions. At best, they could be manic, making irrational choices. At worst, they could be delusional, unaware of their surroundings, believing they are somewhere else.
No Other Crime Was Intended
Recall that burglary, by definition, involves the intent to commit a crime. If someone breaks into a building, wanders around, and leaves, that’s not technically a burglary. Maybe you entered a friend’s home when they weren’t there, looking for your lost cellphone. When no other crime is committed or intended, you may be able to ward off a burglary charge.
Keep in mind, however, that you could still be subject to breaking and entering or trespassing charges.
You Acted Under Duress
The law is sensitive to the possibility that sometimes, people are forced into bad situations. If someone forces you to break a law by threatening you or your family, you can claim that you were acting “under duress.” To some, this situation sounds far-fetched. However, it does happen, and if it happens to you, you will be thankful for the duress defense.
If you’ve been accused of burglary, call our office today at (540) 827-4446 for a free, no-risk consultation. You can also reach us online.