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How New York Courts Define the Crime of Burglary

In New York, Burglary is a serious felony.  The facts of the Burglary will determine whether there is a mandatory minimum state prison sentence associated with a conviction and how long that state prison sentence will be. In April of 2019, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on an important case discussing the “intent” element of the crime of burglary. While the case arose in Michigan, the case raises an important issue that could come up in a New York burglary case.

Historically, burglary has been defined as an unlawful entry at night into a building owned by another, with the intent to commit a crime therein. Over the years, lawmakers have refined the definition of burglary. For example, nearly all states have eliminated the requirement that the alleged acts occur in the evening hours. Additionally, many states have added language into the burglary statute allowing the crime to be proven by showing that the defendant “unlawfully remained” on the property with the intent to commit a crime.

The exact nature in which the case arose is complex; however, the Court was asked to determine whether Michigan’s “home invasion” statute satisfied the elements of a “burglary” for the purposes of the Armed Career Criminals Act. Michigan defined a home invasion as “breaking and entering a dwelling and while entering or present in the dwelling, committing a misdemeanor.”

The specific question the Court must answer is whether the crime of burglary requires the prosecution provide evidence that the defendant had the intent to commit a crime at the time of unlawful entry or first unlawful remaining. In other words, if a defendant breaks into a building for no particular purpose and then develops the intent to commit a crime once he is inside, can he be found guilty of burglary?

New York’s burglary statute states that a defendant is guilty of burglary if he “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime therein.” Thus, under the New York burglary statute, the defendant’s intent must be present at the time of entry. However, it is less clear about situations involving a defendant who unlawfully remains in a building and subsequently develops the intent to commit a crime. The Supreme Court’s decision should shed some light on whether this situation fits within the generic definition of a burglary. A decision is expected later this year; however, it could come as late as next year.

Have You Been Charged with a New York Burglary?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with burglary, you should contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. The difference between a burglary conviction and the lesser offense of criminal trespass can be enormous. At Tilem & Associates, we aggressively represent our clients who have been charged with serious crimes, including New York property crimes. We zealously negotiate on behalf of our clients when necessary, and are always ready to take a case to trial when the prosecution is unwilling to make a fair offer. To learn more, and to speak with one of our dedicated New York criminal defense lawyers about your case, call 877-377-8666 to schedule your free consultation today.