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Burglary: Not Just a Theft Crime


If you do an image search for the word burglar, you will inevitably get a page full of people in dark clothing hefting away a sack of money that they clearly have just stolen. If you’re a fan of comic books, you’ll know that Catwoman is a cat burglar, who is famous for stealing prized jewels and gemstones. Right here on our own Milwaukee criminal defense website, you will find burglary sorted under theft crimes. But despite all of this imagery, history, and common classifications, burglary is not technically theft. So what is it?

Obscure Details Within Burglary’s Definition

Burglary is a property crime because it involves entering into an unoccupied structure or onto a property uninvited and with the intent to commit a crime while there. That secondary crime doesn’t have to be theft, it can be vandalism, conspiracy, a weapons crime, etc. Burglary has merely been permanently linked to theft in our minds because it is the most common crime that follows the unlawful entering of an unattended property. What else is the average criminal going to do in an empty building that is illegal?

It is also important to point out the deliberate use of the term “unlawful entering,” which is decidedly different from “breaking and entering” a building. If you commit breaking and entering, you must have damaged the structure, an entryway, or a window to get inside. Burglary only requires that you go inside without permission. Did your neighbor leave their front door wide open after they left for the weekend? Stepping inside with the intent to commit a crime is burglary, despite the “open” invitation.

Let’s also point out that stepping inside is, in fact, all it takes to be charged with burglary. No part of the legal statute describes fully entering a building during a burglary. Just sticking your arm through a window or leg through a door can be enough to show you had the intent to burglarize the structure. Lastly, structure is an intentionally loose term as well. Virtually any place that can be sealed in one way or another can be burglarized, such as a single hospital room, a camper’s tent, or a shipping container on the docks.

With all the generalizations in burglary’s legal definition, it can be easy to lose track of what is and isn’t the crime. This makes it particularly difficult to defend yourself against it. If you have been arrested for burglary in Wisconsin, contact our Milwaukee criminal defense attorney from the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today for a complimentary case evaluation.

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