For many people who are not law enforcement officials or attorneys, the term “burglary” invokes a mental image of a person breaking into a building and stealing something there, hoping to do so and not get caught. In other words, this notion of burglary is really another term for larceny or theft.
But while it is true that entering a building and stealing something inside of it is one possible form the burglary, it does not capture the full spectrum of places where a burglary can occur or activities that it can include. This post will provide some additional information on how Oklahoma law defines burglary.
The overarching concept of burglary consists of two parts: first, breaking and entering into a dwelling, structure, or conveyance; and second, doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful activity. Each of these elements warrants a closer examination.
Breaking and entering into a dwelling, structure, or conveyance
Under Oklahoma law, the act of “breaking” is defined as any act of force meant to remove an obstruction to entry. Even slight force, such as that needed to remove a screen or open a window, is sufficient to constitute breaking prior to entry. “Entering” consists of putting any part of one’s body, such as a hand or an arm or a foot, inside the dwelling, structure or conveyance; even inserting the tool used to commit the breaking will suffice as an entry under the legal definition.
Intent to commit an unlawful activity
Although theft offenses qualify as an unlawful activity that can trigger a burglary charge, it is not the only unlawful act that can do so. The key consideration is intent. If one commits an assault after entering a structure without permission but does not steal anything, that is still a burglary, as is impermissibly entering a car or a building intending to vandalize it but not to take anything. But committing a crime in the same structure that does not include intent as an element — such as a crime that is negligent — does not rise to the level of a burglary.
First and second degree burglary: what is the difference?
Oklahoma law classifies burglary into two classes: first and second degree. First degree burglary consists of breaking and entering into a dwelling (a house or structure normally occupied by a person) while a person is inside, with the intent to commit a crime once inside. Note that the dwelling must belong to another person; you cannot commit a burglary by forcing your way into your own home, even if you intend to commit a crime once you are inside.
Second degree burglary occurs when a person breaks and enters into a building, structure or conveyance owned by someone else and in which property is kept, with the intent of either stealing something or committing a crime there (for example, vandalism). Second degree burglary also includes variations such as breaking into a vending machine.
Both first and second degree burglary are felonies under Oklahoma law. First degree burglary is punishable by 7 to 20 years imprisonment. Second degree burglary carries a 2 to 7 year sentence.
How does burglary differ from illegal entry?
It is possible to commit an illegal breaking and entry into a dwelling, building, structure or conveyance even if there is no intention to commit a property crime such as theft or vandalism once inside. What becomes an illegal entry can also be authorized, at least initially: for example, entering a store and then hiding out in it until after closing to commit a theft.