What is Burglary?
The law governing Burglary is 18 PaC.S. § 3502. In order for a defendant to be convicted, the government must prove:
- the defendant entered a building, occupied structure, or separately secured portion thereof (fenced in area)
- with the intent to commit a crime inside the property
A classic example is a defendant entering into someone’s house to steal their valuables.
Burglary is a felony of the first degree and a conviction carries a penalty of up to 20 years incarceration. However, where the building is not adapted for overnight use and no person is present during the crime, Burglary is a felony of the second degree and a conviction carries a penalty of up to 10 years incarceration.
What is Criminal Trespass?
The law governing Criminal Trespass is 18 Pa.C.S. § 3503. In order for a defendant to be convicted, the government must prove: that the defendant entered a building, occupied structure, or separately secured portion thereof, knowing that he is not allowed to enter. This constitutes a felony of the third degree, and a conviction carries a penalty of up to 7 years incarceration.
However, where the defendant “breaks into” the building, occupied structure, or separately secured portion, Criminal Trespass is a felony of the second degree, and a conviction carries a penalty of up to 10 years incarceration. Breaks into is defined as gaining “entry by force, breaking, intimidation, unauthorized opening of locks, or through an opening not designed for human access.”
Criminal trespass is different than Burglary in that it does not require that the defendant intended to commit a crime when entering the property.
Defending Burglary & Trespass - Motions
At a preliminary hearing, the government must prove that it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged (more than 50%). The court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the government, give the government all reasonable inferences, and may not make credibility determinations. Due to this very low standard, most criminal charges are held for court following a preliminary hearing. However, where the government failed to meet their burden, the defendant may request that the court dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing.
If the court refuses to dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing, the defendant may file a Motion to Quash requesting that a higher court dismiss the charges due to insufficient evidence. The higher court will review the evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing to determine whether it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged. The government may also supplement the record by presenting new evidence at the Motion to Quash hearing.
Under Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the government must bring the defendant to trial within 365 days of the date that the criminal complaint was filed. Excluded from this time are delays attributable to the defense, and delays where the government was “duly diligent.” The crucial issue for the court to determine is usually whether the government was duly diligent. For instance, where the government was not ready for trial because a witness failed to appear, the court has to analyze whether the government was duly diligent in securing the witness’s appearance. If the court determines that the government was not duly diligent then the case will be dismissed.
The Constitution requires that all people, and their property, be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that warrants be supported by probable cause. With a Motion to Suppress, the defendant requests that the court suppress (or not allow) evidence to be used at trial that the police obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. For example, a defendant may seek to suppress a firearm that was obtained during a warrantless search of his car, or a statement that he made when he wasn’t read his Miranda warnings.
If, after a hearing, the court determines that the evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, then the evidence cannot be introduced at trial. This often helps the defense’s case immensely as critical evidence cannot be used by the government.
Defending Burglary & Trespass - Trial
This defense is simply that the crime occurred, but the defendant is not the person that committed it. Maybe the defendant looked like the real burglar, or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney analyze the facts of the case to determine whether there was a mistaken identification.
On the other hand, other times people will straight up lie and claim that the defendant broke into their property. Usually a person will be governed by some kind of motive to get someone else into trouble. An experienced criminal defense attorney can determine what the motive was and convince the judge or jury. In addition, nearly every minor detail is of great importance as every inconsistency must be highlighted in order to impeach the witnesses’ credibility. The lawyers at Montoya Coleman are not afraid to call alleged “victims” liars and expose their lies to a judge or a jury.
Sometimes the defendant will be charged with Burglary after they are found in possession of goods that were stolen from a burglarized property. However, to convict the defendant, the government must prove that the defendant actually stole the goods from the property. An experienced criminal defense attorney may highlight the fact that the defendant was not identified as breaking into the property, there were no fingerprints or DNA to put them at the property, and they could have bought the stolen goods from the actual burglar. While this might make the defendant guilty of another crime, Receiving Stolen Property, this is often a misdemeanor and the punishment is much less serious.
Burglary requires that the defendant has an intent to commit a crime at the time he enters the property. An experienced defense attorney can create doubt as to whether the intent was formed at time of entry, or only after the time of entry. For example, if the defendant entered a house to talk with the complainant and a fight ensued, the defense lawyer may argue that the defendant did not have the intent to fight until he was already inside the house.
It is a defense to Burglary and Trespass that the defendant is allowed to be inside the property, if the property was open to the public, or if the property was abandoned. However, the premises must be legally abandoned, meaning that there is no owner.