Burglary comes in many flavors, but all burglary charges require three things:
- entry of a dwelling, structure, or conveyance (car, boat),
- with knowledge that such entry is without permission, and
- with the intent to commit an offense therein.
With that stuff out of the way, let's dig deeper.Entry With the Intent to Commit an Offense
Entering a place you don't belong is just a trespass. Yes, trespass is still a crime, but it takes a bit more to get to felony burglary status.
Burglary requires not just "entry", but also an "intent to commit an offense". Most of the time, the offense intended is theft. To give you a good feel of how this "entry with intent to commit an offense" works, let's examine the case of Gaskin v. State, 869 So. 2d 646 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2004). Gaskin was being transported to court from the jail, and escaped the transport bus. He then fled into a business and locked himself in. Soon thereafter, his Shawshank moment came to an end, and he was recaptured. Gaskin was charged with burglary for entering the business with the intent to commit escape. The court overturned his burglary conviction because the offense of "escape" had already occurred before he entered the building. Thus, there was no intent to commit "another" crime when entering the business, thus no burglary.What Constitutes "Entry"?
Yes, we lawyers will debate every single word. And, there's plenty of issues surrounding the notion of "entry". Take the case of R.G. v. State , 865 So. 2d 685 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004). R.G. was found guilty of burglary to a structure, because it was proven that he entered a fenced area and stole several golf carts. The court overturned the burglary conviction because there was no evidence that R.G. entered a building or the curtilage of a building, there was only evidence that he entered a "fenced area". Last time I checked, a fenced area is not a structure with a roof, thus no entry to a structure, thus no burglary to a structure. You with me so far? Good.
At times, the purpose for which a person enters a building comes into play in determining whether or not a burglary has occurred. Take the case of Gruver v. State, 816 So. 2d. 835 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002), where Gruver was given permission to enter the victim's house to use their first floor restroom. In addition to using the bathroom, Gruver also went upstairs to a bedroom, helping himself to some jewelry. Sure, helping himself to a few squares of toilet paper would have been within the permission granted, but consent was limited to the first floor--his entry into a second floor bedroom supported a burglary of a dwelling charge.
Burglary to a conveyance (car) has it's own set of problems. Florida law defines a conveyance as "any motor vehicle, ship, vessel, railroad car, trailer, aircraft, or sleeping car" noting that "to enter a conveyance includes taking apart any portion of the conveyance". Florida Statutes 810.011(3).
The most common burglary to a conveyance involves the breaking into a car to steal either a car radio, purse, or smart phone (who doesn't bring their phone with them? If you leave out a brand new iPhone, don't expect it to be there when you return). As a side note here, what about theft of hubcaps? Assuming people still do this sort of thing, does stealing hubcaps constitute a burglary? The short answer is no, because removing a portion of a conveyance only constitutes burglary if the removed portion facilitates the commission of an offense within the conveyance. Removing tires, rims, and hubcaps does not constitute a portion of a car that could facilitate the entry of the car. The gist of a burglary to a conveyance is the intent to commit a crime (usually theft) within the car. I should also note, with rising gas prices, that the act of siphoning gasoline from a car does not constitute burglary, even though it could be argued that sucking gas out of a car requires a tube to enter the gas tank of the vehicle. However, attempts to remove parts from an engine compartment can support a burglary charge. Also, simply reaching into the bed of a pickup truck can, under the right circumstances, constitute burglary (even though this area is not enclosed, as required by the burglary statute).What About Theft?
As mentioned above, a burglary is committed when someone enters a location for the purpose of committing a crime. If you break into a house to spray graffiti on the walls, that's burglary of a dwelling--even though you didn't steal anything. You entered the house and committed a crime.
However, the vast majority of burglary charges involve theft, so all of the defenses available in a theft case will be available on a burglary case as well. For example, if a burglary of a dwelling charge is based solely upon the possession of recently stolen goods, the facts surrounding the acquisition of the stolen items will play a key role in defending the charges (See "Timing Can Be Everything In a Theft Case"). If the Accused has an explanation for his possession of recently stolen goods--and if that excuse is good enough--the charges may be dismissed (See "A Good Story May Get a Burglary and Theft Charge Dismissed").What if They Have Fingerprints?
Prosecutors love fingerprints and I don't know why ,because evidence of fingerprints isn't as damning as you might expect. The simple fact is, numerous Florida courts have overturned convictions based upon fingerprints. For example, in C.P.C. v. State, the Accused was convicted of burglary of a dwelling and grand theft. 179 So. 3d 376 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) Basically, an apartment was broken into and C.P.C.'s fingerprints were found on the broken glass. The court overturned the conviction because the state couldn't prove when the fingerprints were left on the window. [for more on this, check out my article "Fingerprints Not Enough to Convict"]
A similar result was reached in C.E. v. State, a case in which the defendant was convicted of burglary of a conveyance. 665 So. 2d 1097 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996). A police van was broken into, things were stolen, and an exterior window had C.E.'s fingerprints on it. These fingerprints were the only evidence against C.E., and the conviction was thrown out because the state could not prove when the prints were placed on the vehicle.
As you can see, the crime of burglary can be more complicated than expected. Much of the analysis requires an examination of both the act constituting "entry", and an analysis of the "intent to commit an offense" therein. When confronted with such accusations, it's best to contact a good local criminal defense attorney, I happen to know one right here in Central Florida. Give me a call and we'll discuss your options. Thanks.