What you need to know to defend against a Burglary Charge
In the United States, a burglary is committed about once every 15 seconds. In 2016 alone, the State of Washington recorded a total of 49,180 burglary incidents. Due to these statistics, a charge of burglary can and will, very often, turn into a serious affair.
The offense of burglary is viewed as a serious crime in Washington and a conviction will result in lengthy prison time. Since it is an offense that often calls the safety of cherished property into question, any kind of burglary allegation can be damaging. Apart from this, prosecution of offenses like this is often done tenaciously with intent to exact stiff penalties.
Often, when faced with an allegation or charge of burglary, the best course of action is to contact a skilled lawyer immediately. If you do this quickly, it may be possible to get the charges dismissed or reduced to avoid jail time.
At The Curtis Firm, we have the experience and proven track record to keep you out of prison if you are hit with a burglary charge. Attorney Curtis has helped many clients in Pierce, King and Thurston counties. He has earned a reputation as a top Washington burglary attorney. With his decade of experience as a former prosecutor, he knows the tactics of prosecution counsel, and will use this advantage brilliantly in your favor.
How does the prosecutor prove burglary?
Burglary is defined by law as the unauthorized entry into a building with the intent to commit a crime or attempt to commit a crime. Burglary used to be regarded as a crime against property. But the instances of activities listed under burglary have been expanded to include people. As such, burglary is now majorly regarded as a crime against a person or property.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines burglary as the act of breaking and entering into a dwelling (place of residence) at night with the intent to commit a crime. However, the definition of burglary has been expanded such that a person may not only liable for burglary when caught breaking and entering at night.
A burglary charge may also lie in the following instances when a person illegally gains entrance into any structure, not just a place of residence. Examples of structures that count here include stores, school buildings, houseboats, trailer homes, tents and campsites. Although, committing burglary in a residential building attracts stiffer penalties than that of commercial buildings.
Apart from this, burglary can occur once a person gains entrance illegally. It would not matter that a window or door was open and this argument will not get the person off the hook. As long as the person entered without the permission of the owner of the building, a burglary charge may lie.
This also applies to stores and commercial buildings where the proprietor or owner has clearly prohibited a person from entry. If such a person is caught shoplifting in the store or building, the person may be liable to a burglary charge even though it was not nighttime.
There are three elements that underpin the offense of burglary. These elements of burglary are as follows:
- Unauthorized entry: This means that the offender physically entered the structure without the express permission of the owner. It could be by the use of force and it could be by merely placing a body part inside the structure.
- Entry into a structure: As earlier mentioned, the structure is not restricted to only places of residence. It includes other types of buildings such as stores, trailer homes and even campsites.
- Intent to commit an offense: This means that the trespasser must have had the intent to commit a crime inside the structure.
Are there different types of burglary charges in Washington?
There are four burglary-related offenses which the State of Washington recognizes and provides specific punishment for. They are burglary in the first degree, residential burglary, burglary in the second degree and possession of burglary tools. The offenses are ranked in order of severity, from burglary in the first degree to possession of burglary tools.
Definition of Burglary in the first degree:
Burglary in the first degree is the most serious burglary related offense. A person may be culpable for burglary in the first degree if the person or an accomplice:
- Enters a building or remains in the building unlawfully and with intent to commit a crime against a person or property;
- Enters a building armed with a deadly weapon; or
- While in the building or in flight from the building, assaults any person.
Burglary in the first degree is a Class A felony and it carries a sentence of 31 to 41 months imprisonment for a first-time offender. For a repeat offender, it carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or a fine of $50,000 or both. It is considered a violent offense and is a “strike” under Washington's three-strike rule.
Definition of Residential Burglary:
This is when a person enters or remains in a dwelling other than a vehicle with the intent to commit a crime against a person or property in the dwelling. Residential burglary is a Class B felony and is considered a much more serious offense than burglary in the second degree.
A first-time offender with no prior criminal history can be sentenced to about 3 to 9 months in prison. A repeat offender gets up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $20,000 or both.
It is also possible for a person to be charged with burglary for entering their own home. This is possible if a restraining order or order of protection is in effect against the person. An instance of this is where a spouse has obtained a restraining order against the other spouse.
Definition of Burglary in the second degree:
A person may be liable for burglary in the second degree if they enter or remain in a building with the intent to commit a crime against a person or property. The building must be other than a dwelling or a vehicle, such as stores or commercial areas.
Burglary in the second degree is also regarded as a Class B felony, though less serious than residential burglary. It carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Can I be charged with possessing burglary tools?
Being in possession of burglar tools under circumstances which suggest an intent to use them is considered a gross misdemeanor offense. It is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Items that qualify as burglary tools include false keys, pick locks, bits and nippers.
Does possession of a firearm or weapon increase punishment for a burglary charge?
The presence of a weapon while committing a crime enhances the charges against defendant. Prosecuting attorneys often attempt to bring weapon-enhanced charges against defendants in order to increase the sentence.
For residential burglary and burglary in the second degree, a deadly weapon-enhanced charge brings an additional sentence of 12 months. The use of a firearm brings an additional sentence of 36 months.
For burglary in the first degree, a deadly weapon-enhanced charge brings an additional sentence of 18 months and a firearm enhancement charge brings an additional sentence of 60 months.
What are the defenses against a burglary charge?
Despite the apparent severity of burglary charges, they are still defensible, especially when you have a good lawyer. There are many ways in which a Washington Burglary attorney can defend a burglary charge. Keep in mind that many allegations of burglary may be down to simple misunderstandings or even mistaken identity.
For instance, your lawyer may challenge the prosecutor's proof of one or more of the elements. One such element is “intent”. If your burglary attorney is able to successfully contend that you did not enter into the building with the intent to commit a felony, then you have very good chances of having the charges dropped or dismissed.
Another way of challenging the intent element is a repossession. If you gained access into the building in order to repossess property that you believed was yours, then you cannot be said to have accessed the building with the intent to commit a crime.
Mistaken identity often offers a defense as well. If a defendant was wearing a mask during the burglary, a Washington burglary attorney can raise the defense that the face of the perpetrator was not visible. If the prosecution cannot sufficiently prove the identity of the burglar, the charges may be dismissed.
Let us defend you
At The Curtis Firm, we will take a personal approach to your case because we understand the all too real consequences of a burglary conviction. We will listen to your story and help you formulate the best defense. We have defended several clients like you effectively in times past and with excellent results. Contact us so we can adapt our strategies to help in fighting for your freedom.