Despite what many people think, the crime of burglary is not always a theft offense. You can find yourself charged and convicted with burglary even if you did not steal anything. Burglary is a crime that punishes trespassing with the intent to commit a crime. Since people often trespass in order to steal, it is commonly equated with theft.
If you or a loved one has been charged with burglary, it is very important to talk to an attorney about the case. You could face years of punishment for burglary, especially if a weapon was used during the crime. Hiring a New Jersey burglary attorney to review your case as early as you can may help keep you out of jail, get the charges reduced, or get them dropped altogether. In Atlantic City and throughout South Jersey, the criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych help prove defendants’ innocence and keep them out of jail.
Definition of Burglary in New Jersey
New Jersey’s burglary statute can be found in N.J.S.A. § 2C:18-2. The statute defines burglary to focus on two elements: trespassing, and having the intent to commit a crime in the place you trespassed. Specifically, the statute covers trespassing by:
Entering a structure;
Secretly remaining in a structure without permission; or
Entering the property of a utility company, where signs or fencing are used to keep people out.
New Jersey law defines the term “structure” very broadly. In some states, the definition of burglary requires that the structure you enter is a house, or that someone is present. New Jersey (under N.J.S.A. § 2C:18-1) uses “structure” to refer to any building, whether it is a home or used for business, and whether or not anyone is present. Burglary’s definition also specifically includes research facilities and secured parts of other structures, meaning that trespassing in virtually any building could lead to burglary charges.
In order for a crime to be burglary, and not simply the crime of trespass, you must have the intent to commit another crime when trespassing. This law simply says “crime,” which would include any crime under New Jersey law, regardless of level. Some definitions require that the crime be a felony, a very high level of crime, but New Jersey permits burglary charges for any intended crime. While this crime might commonly be theft, it could alternatively be assault, sexual assault, or some other crime.
Punishments for New Jersey Burglary
Burglary is always a serious offense. No matter how it is classified, it always has a potential punishment of between three and 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000. In order to reach the highest levels of punishment, though, you must commit the crime with some additional elements.
If a burglary involves either of these elements, it will be punished as a “second degree crime” – the second highest level of crime in New Jersey:
If the actor “inflicts, attempts to inflict or threatens to inflict bodily injury on anyone.” This injury must be done recklessly, knowingly, or purposely in order to qualify. That means that completely accidental injury will not increase the grading of the crime – but proving that the injury was a complete accident is incredibly difficult.
If the actor “is armed with or displays what appear to be explosives or a deadly weapon.” This means that the use or brandishing of a weapon increases the severity of the crime. Even pretending to have a weapon or using a fake weapon (such as an airsoft gun) can still lead to an increased sentence.
These instances of burglary are second degree crimes because of the involvement of physical injury or use of a weapon. A second degree crime is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000. Any other burglary is a third degree crime, punishable by three to five years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
Note that proving these extra elements is not necessary to convict someone of burglary. Even if the prosecution fails to prove injury or weapon use, you could still face five years in prison. However, in order to prove the crime in the first place, prosecutors must prove you trespassed with the intent to commit a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
South Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
Hiring a defense attorney to represent you on your burglary charge can mean the difference between guilt and innocence or the difference between jail and freedom. An attorney, like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, may be able to help get charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed at trial. Even if you are guilty, an attorney may be able to argue for reduced sentences or probation instead of jail. Call (609) 616-4956 for a free consultation about your burglary charges with our criminal defense attorneys.