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What Exactly Is the Crime of Burglary in Pennsylvania?

A Reading man was recently arrested for a crime spree that included several burglaries of businesses in Lancaster County. Most people understand that burglary has something to do with the illegal entry of a premises and is generally connected to theft. But what exactly do prosecutors have to prove to secure a conviction for burglary?

The definition of burglary under Pennsylvania law is “entering a building or occupied structure  with the intent of committing a crime therein.” Notice there is no requirement that a burglar break a window or even pick a lock. The physical requirement is merely that the burglar enter with criminal intent. But there is also a mental element to the crime, what lawyers call the mens rea, or the intent to commit a crime. For the crime to be burglary, the accused must have had the idea to commit a crime when entry is made. A person who enters someone’s premises, lawfully or not, and gets the idea to commit a crime once inside is not guilty of burglary.

Note also the law does not require the intent to commit theft. A person who enters a premises with the idea of committing vandalism, arson, assault, rape, or murder has committed burglary. Also, the burglar does not have to accomplish or even attempt the contemplated crime; even if he abandons the idea of committing the contemplated crime, he has committed burglary.

But, you might ask, if he didn’t accomplish or even attempt the contemplated crime, how is it possible to prove he was contemplating a crime? Prosecutors often use physical and circumstantial evidence to build a case. If a suspect is apprehended with lock-picking tools, spray paint, gasoline cans, empty sacks or a weapon, prosecutors can make a compelling case of intent. And if the suspect had an adverse relationship with the owner or occupant of the property, a case can be made that the suspect entered the premises with the intent to commit a crime therein.

Burglary crimes are classified by degree based on the potential threat to human life:

  • Second-degree felony — The premises is not a home or dwelling and no person is present at the time of the crime. The penalty is up to 10 years in prison.
  • First-degree felony — The premises is a home or dwelling or a person is present at the time of the crime. The penalty is up to 20 years in prison.

David R. Eshelman defends individuals accused of misdemeanor and felony crimes in the Reading area. If you are charged with burglary, protect your rights by meeting with criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman today.


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