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Can I Be Convicted of Burglary Without “Breaking” Anything?

The penalties for burglary in Illinois can be very serious. The law on burglary in Illinois is 720 ILCS 5/19-1, and it states that a burglary occurs whenever a person:


(1) knowingly, and

(2) without authority

(3a) enters into or (3b) remains within

(4) a building, watercraft, railroad car or other prohibited structure or item

(5) with the intent to commit a (a) theft or (b) felony inside.


This is a deceptively-simple crime: when the crime’s definition is parsed out (as it is above), it is easy to see that there are five distinct elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt before a person can be found guilty of burglary.


What Is Meant by “Knowingly”?


            “Knowingly” is the mens rea – the mental state – required for the commission of the crime. This requires some proof that the defendant was aware of what he or she was doing and the facts and circumstances that he or she found him- or herself in.


What Is Meant by “Without Authority”?


            A burglary is the entering of a designated structure “without authority.” This element is proven if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the owner of the property did not give the defendant permission to come onto his or her property or remain on his or her property. Authority can be granted and then taken away: if the defendant initially came onto the owner’s property with the owner’s authority but that authority was later taken away, the defendant may be guilty of committing a burglary (if the other elements of the crime are met).


            A property owner may not need to affirmatively tell the defendant that he or she is not welcome in order for the “without authority” element of the offense to be met. If the allegedly-burglarized property is private in nature (like a home or a private car), it is generally inferred that the defendant does not have permission to be on or in the property. The defendant may find it necessary as a practical matter to show that he or she did in fact have permission to be on or in such property. Conversely, if the allegedly-burglarized property is public in nature (such as a business or government office), it will usually be assumed that the defendant does have permission to be on or in this property during regular business hours. The prosecution will find it necessary in most cases to show that defendant was informed in some way that he or she was not welcomed to come upon the property any longer.


What Is Meant by “With the Intent to Commit a Theft or Felony”?


            Simply being on or in another’s property without the owner’s permission is not burglary – it is criminal trespass. Burglary requires the additional element that the unauthorized entry or remaining on or in the property was done in order to carry out a theft (regardless of the value of the item) or a felony while on or inside the property.


Is There an Element of “Breaking” in the Burglary Statute?


            There is no requirement that the prosecution show that anything was “broken” by the defendant’s entering into or remaining on the property. A defendant may be convicted of burglary if he or she enters into a building without the owner’s permission, even if the door the defendant enters through is opened and unlocked, so long as the other elements are met.



What are penalties for Burglary?


            Burglary in Illinois is a class 2 felony, which carries with it a prison term of three to seven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. If the act took place in the dwelling place of another, you can be charged with Residential Burglary, which enhances the offense to a class 1 felony with a sentencing range of 4 to 15 years. 

About the Author
Sami Azhari
Posted - 03/14/2016 | Illinois