Burglary vs Breaking and Entering: What is the Difference?

In the realm of criminal law, terms like "burglary" and "breaking and entering" are often used interchangeably by the general public. However, they are distinct legal concepts with different implications. Let's shed some light on the specifics of these two offenses and their differences.

Burglary, Defined

Burglary is primarily defined as the illegal entry into a building intending to commit a felony or theft. It's important to note that the definition of burglary does not necessarily require the physical "breaking" of anything. The act becomes a burglary when there's unlawful entry with felonious intent, whether the person entered through an unlocked door or broke a window to gain access.

What Constitutes Breaking and Entering?

On the other hand, "breaking and entering" is broadly defined as the act of forcibly entering into someone else's property without permission. The term "forcibly" is critical here but can be misleading - force can imply anything from smashing a window to simply pushing open a door. The crucial factor distinguishing breaking and entering from burglary is the intent to commit a crime inside the property. Breaking and entering can become burglary if it can be proven that the perpetrator intended to commit a felony or theft.

Key Differences

The primary difference between burglary and breaking and entering lies in the intent behind the action. While both involve illegal entry to a property, burglary requires a criminal intent beyond the unlawful entry, whereas breaking and entering does not.

Burglary and breaking and entering are both serious offenses characterized by unauthorized access to private property. If an individual discreetly enters another person's home at night without permission to steal valuables, this is classified as burglary. On the other hand, breaking and entering could involve a person forcefully entering a locked warehouse, not necessarily with intent to steal, but perhaps out of curiosity or for shelter. Both actions are illegal and carry different legal ramifications.

Potential Legal Consequences

Burglary and breaking and entering carry different legal penalties. Given its associated criminal intent, burglary is often treated more severely, potentially leading to felony charges that carry longer prison terms and heftier fines. Breaking and entering, in contrast, is usually classified as a misdemeanor, resulting in less severe penalties, unless it's associated with other criminal activities.

A burglary becomes significantly more serious when it involves a residential property, given the violation of personal security and privacy that it represents. Yet, even more alarming is the scenario where an individual is present during the act. In such instances, the perpetrators may face a first-degree or aggravated burglary charge, which is usually classified as a felony. This could lead to a prison sentence that ranges from a few years to life imprisonment depending on the state's laws. The court may also impose hefty fines and order the offender to pay restitution to the victims. Enhanced sentences may apply if the burglar was armed or if any violence was used during the crime. It is essential to note that these penalties are intended to reflect the serious nature of the crime and the potential trauma inflicted upon the victims.

Defending Against Charges

If you or someone you know are facing charges of burglary or breaking and entering, it's crucial to engage a knowledgeable legal counsel. Defenses may include:

  • challenging the evidence
  • questioning whether there was genuine intent to commit a felony (in case of burglary)
  • asserting the defendant's belief that they had lawful access to the property

Remember, understanding your charges is the first step toward a strong defense. Understanding the difference between burglary and breaking and entering could mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. So, arm yourself with knowledge and the right legal team.

How Can Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk Help?

While burglary and breaking and entering might seem similar, the distinction between them can significantly impact the nature of charges and potential penalties. Anyone dealing with such cases should seek professional guidance from legal experts like those at Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk LLC, who can provide reliable advice and robust representation. With three convenient locations in Williamsport, Lewisburg, and the Southern Tier in Pennsylvania, we can assist clients from various regions and provide easy access to our legal services. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


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320 Market Street, Lewisburg (570) 522-0505
Northern Tier Pennsylvania (570) 673-4081
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