Philadelphia Burglary Defense Lawyer
Burglary is an extremely serious felony offense in Pennsylvania. People often assume that burglary always involves a theft offense, but this is not always the case.
Burglary involves unlawfully entering a structure or building to commit a crime once inside. The intended offense can be theft, but it does not have to be. The intent to harm any occupants may also be involved in a burglary. Burglary charges may vary based on whether any occupants were inside the building or if anybody was hurt. Defendants frequently confuse burglary with robbery. While robbery is often charged as a felony, it is a completely different crime from burglary. While the penalties for burglary can be high, you can only be sentenced for burglary and not the other intended crime.
Contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers for assistance if you face burglary charges. Our team can help you fight the charges and minimize the penalties. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case evaluation.
Our Philadelphia Burglary Lawyers Have a History of Success
We have successfully defended clients who were accused of breaking into a prominent Philadelphian’s home and achieved a dismissal of all charges for the client by aggressive negotiation.
In addition, we have worked with those who had no prior criminal record but were accused of attempting to break into a home while the resident watched from the inside.
Our Bucks County criminal crimes defense attorneys have achieved an ARD disposition by persuading the DA that their case was weak. We have also significantly reduced sentences for clients facing many years in prison by fighting the admission of evidence, negotiating better plea offers, and presenting compelling mitigation arguments at sentencing.
We have secured lower sentences than the mandatory guidelines suggested on many occasions for clients. Often, our clients face 5-10 years in prison, and we can secure sentences significantly below five years through a combination of the strategies described above.
What Constitutes Burglary in Philadelphia?
Understanding the specific definitions and defenses for burglary is important if you have been charged with burglary in Philadelphia.
Definition of Burglary
The offense of burglary can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3502(a). Historically, the crime of burglary specifically involved a home, residence, or dwelling place. However, today a burglary may occur in any building, occupied or unoccupied. This includes a home or dwelling place but can also include office buildings, stores, garages, and more.
The law spells out numerous instances in which a burglary may occur. A burglary may involve a place that is either occupied or unoccupied. The key element of a burglary is the defendant’s intent to commit a crime once inside the building or structure.
While burglary offenses often involve theft crimes, theft is not required for a burglary to be completed. The crime could involve the intent to commit bodily harm against an occupant or to harass the occupants.
Burglary is an extremely serious felony, and you should call an attorney for help as soon as you are arrested. Our Delaware County criminal defense lawyers have experience handling these charges and can help you defend yourself and protect your rights.
Defenses to Burglary
The law also states circumstances in which burglary cannot occur and should not be charged. For example, if a person breaks into an abandoned structure, there is no burglary. The same goes for structures or buildings open to the public, or the defendant is licensed or authorized to enter the building or structure.
Even so, that does not mean a crime cannot be committed in the building or structure. For example, if a defendant’s neighbor gave them permission to enter their home to water their plants while the neighbor is on vacation, the defendant cannot be charged with burglary for entering the home and stealing. Instead, theft charges would be more appropriate. One effective way of defending yourself against burglary charges is to argue that you were mischarged and that a lesser offense is more appropriate under the circumstances.
We can also help you challenge the prosecutor’s assertions that you intended to commit a crime inside the structure or building. Even if a defendant was unlawfully present in the building, they might not have had any criminal intent. For example, a person who enters a house by mistake or is under the false impression they have a right to be there can challenge their burglary charges.
Philadelphia Burglary Charges and Fingerprints
Fingerprint evidence is based on the idea that each individual person has a unique fingerprint that they share with no one else in the world. Therefore, fingerprint evidence can often be used with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty to prove that a particular individual touched a tested surface, so long as a print is left on the surface and the testing to done appropriately. However, there have been numerous instances of misuse of this scientific evidence, and it has also been used to exonerate individuals suspected of crimes.
At the law offices of Lloyd Long, our attorneys believe that you should not simply accept fingerprint evidence at face value. We have a long history of challenging fingerprint evidence, and our Montgomery County criminal defense lawyers have developed a unique understanding of the science, or lack of science, behind fingerprint evidence and presenting it in a way that judges and juries can understand.
We excel at analyzing this complex evidence, discovering potential weaknesses, and using them to our clients’ advantage.
Penalties for Burglary in Philadelphia
Burglary is typically charged as a felony, but the degree of the charges may vary from case to case. According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 3502(c), burglary is always a first-degree felony unless otherwise specified by the statute. As a first-degree felony, burglary may be punished by up to 20 years in prison.
Burglary is instead a second-degree felony if the building or structure entered by the defendant is not adapted for overnight accommodation and there are no other people present. Essentially, if the structure is not someone’s home and nobody is there, burglary is charged as a second-degree felony. As a second-degree felony, burglary may be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
Even under the above circumstances, burglary can still be charged as a first-degree felony. If the defendant is found to have entered the unoccupied, nonresidential building in order to steal drugs or controlled substances, they will be charged with a first-degree felony.
Sentencing for Burglary in Philadelphia
Burglary is sentenced according to the ordinary rules for sentencing under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1103. However, additional rules apply to how a defendant may be sentenced to the crime of burglary and the underlying offense they intended to commit inside the building or structure.
A key element of burglary is that the defendant must have intended to commit a crime once they gained entrance to the building or structure. For example, some defendants break into a home with the intention of stealing any valuables they can find. This begs the question, can a defendant be convicted and sentenced for the underlying crime involved in the burglary?
The answer to this question is no. Under 18 Pa.C.S. 3502(d), a convicted defendant cannot be sentenced for both burglary and offense they intended to commit after the unlawful entry into the building or structure. Since the intended crime is wrapped up in the burglary offense, they cannot be punished as separate offenses.
What Is the Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Burglary in Philadelphia?
In state court, there can be mandatory minimum sentences. One of the more common requirements is if the burglary is a “second strike” or a “third strike.” Strike offenses are previous violent crime convictions, usually armed robbery or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Burglary can count as a strike offense if it is committed in a home when people are present when the burglary occurs.
If convicted, a defendant could face a mandatory ten-year term of imprisonment for a second strike conviction and a minimum of twenty-five years to life sentence for a third strike conviction. As you can see, based on the high level of seriousness of these charges, having a lawyer that can help you navigate these difficult charges and defend against them in the best possible way is essential.
The Differences Between Burglary and Robbery
Knowing exactly what the differences are between burglary and robbery will be important to your legal defense. These two crimes are often confused, but they have separate and distinct elements and defenses.
Definition of Robbery
Robbery and burglary are often conflated. While burglary often involves theft, it does not always. Robbery is inherently a theft-related offense. Our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys have experience handling both offenses and can offer advice and guidance during your case.
Robbery is defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3701(a) and may be charged when a defendant has allegedly committed a theft crime by force. Specifically, the statute states that robbery charges may be assessed when a defendant, in the process of a theft, commits one of the following:
- The defendant inflicts serious bodily harm upon the alleged victim.
- The defendant threatens the victim with serious bodily harm.
- The defendant threatens to commit another felony of the first or second degree against the victim.
- The defendant commits or threatens to commit less serious bodily harm against the alleged victim.
- The stolen property is physically taken by force from the victim’s person.
- Money is taken from a financial institution without the permission of the institution by demanding it from an employee.
To clarify, any bodily injured by a defendant may be serious or non-serious. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help you review your case and determine if the alleged injuries meet the requirements of robbery. Additionally, these factors must occur during the theft and may happen before, during, or shortly after the property is supposedly stolen.
This is different from a burglary where physical violence or theft offenses are not required. Robbery is a bit more rigidly structured in that if it does not involve theft or force, it is not robbery.
Defenses to Robbery
The fact that robbery is so rigidly defined may be used to our advantage when fighting your criminal charges. There is a bit less wiggle room when it comes to what meets the criteria for robbery than for burglary. While burglary might involve any number of criminal acts committed in a structure or building, robbery must involve theft.
If the incident in question did not involve a theft or attempted theft, your robbery charges should not stand. For example, suppose a defendant got into a physical altercation with a friend, and that friend claims their phone was stolen during the fight. The defendant could be charged with robbery if they fought the victim to steal the phone. However, if the phone is never found with the defendant or is found elsewhere, there is no theft, and there can be no robbery.
Robbery is often used to describe any theft offense, but this is inaccurate. Robbery must involve force or threat of force. If someone accused you of theft, but there is no evidence of harm or force against the alleged victim, we can challenge your robbery charges.
Our Philadelphia Burglary Defense Attorneys Can Help
If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with burglary or a burglary-related offense, the experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long. Call (215) 302-0171 today for a free consultation.