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What is the Crime of Burglary in Pennsylvania?

July 30, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In early June two Pennsylvania men were arrested for stealing a golf cart from a Poconos resort. In addition to the golf cart, the pair also stole several electronics, clothing, and DVDs. They are now facing charges of burglary. The crime of burglary is often misunderstood in Pennsylvania, and many mistake it for the crime of robbery. So, what is burglary, and what are the penalties you face if charged?

Pennsylvania Law on Burglary

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 3502(a) defines the crime of burglary as entering a building or structure with the intent to commit a crime. This differs from the crime of robbery, which is taking property from a person. In cases when a person unlawfully enters a building and then steals property directly from a person, they may face both burglary and robbery charges.

Burglary also does not necessarily have to involve theft. A person must only have the intent to commit a crime. Intending to assault someone after unlawfully entering a building or structure could result in burglary charges. A person also doesn’t have to actually commit a crime in order to be charged with burglary. The prosecution must only show the defendant had the intent to commit a crime.

Burglary is Always a Felony in Pennsylvania

Burglary is always considered a felony in Pennsylvania, although there are varying degrees. Burglary is charged as a first-degree felony if the structure entered was residential, or if someone was present at the time of the burglary. Those convicted face up to 20 years in prison.

When the structure entered was commercial property, or if no one was present at the time of the crime, burglary may be charged as a second-degree felony. If convicted, those charged face a maximum of ten years in prison.

If a crime was actually committed after a person unlawfully entered a structure, those accused will face additional charges for that crime as well.

Defenses to Burglary

Facing burglary charges seems fairly hopeless, but it’s not. There are many possible defenses to burglary including:

  • No intent: If the prosecution can only show that the defendant unlawfully entered, or attempted to unlawfully enter, a structure but cannot prove their intent to commit a crime, burglary charges do not apply. In these cases, the prosecution may reduce the charge to criminal trespass, which is still a felony, but has much lighter sentencing guidelines.
  • Abandonment: If the property was abandoned, burglary charges do not apply. If the owner of a property has not maintained it, has not been there for a long time, or has not paid property taxes or the mortgage, a judge may still declare the property abandoned even though there is an owner.
  • Public property: Generally speaking, anyone is legally allowed to enter public property, such as a hospital. In order for burglary charges to apply, a person must unlawfully enter the property. Therefore, if a person had reason to believe the property was open to the public, it’s not burglary, even if that person commits a crime while there.
  • Mistaken identity: Sometimes in a criminal case, the prosecution simply gets it wrong and accuses the wrong person of a crime.

These are all solid defenses for the crime of burglary that have been successful in the past. A Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can use one or many of these to build you a solid case.

Call Our Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you’ve been charged with the crime of burglary, you need the help of our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we will work with you to determine the best defense available for your case, and help you understand your rights and legal options. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online so we can start reviewing your case.


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