Burglary is generally defined as the entering of a dwelling with intent to commit a crime.  While it used to be that the burglary had to be at night-time, the time of day is no longer important in most modern statutes.  The entry can be through force, or “breaking.”  Alternatively, entry can be without the permission of the person who occupies the house.  For example, a husband returning home to assault his wife could be convicted of burglary so long as the prosecution can prove that the husband intended to assault his wife at the time he entered.  It cannot be that the husband developed this intent once he was already inside.

Since it is impossible for the judge or jury to read the defendant’s mind, the prosecution will need to make out the defendant’s intent at the time he/she entered the dwelling through circumstantial evidence.  Were there signs of forced entry?  Was the defendant found in possession of any “burglary tools” or stolen goods?  Did the defendant say anything either before or after entry that could suggest intent?

The nature of the crime the person intends to commit is irrelevant so long as it is separate from the entry itself.  For example, the crime the person intends to commit cannot be burglary or unlawful entry.  If the person enters the house illegally but does not have an intent to commit a crime, the person could be found guilty of the misdemeanor crime of unlawful entry.

Washington, D.C.

In order to secure a conviction for burglary in Washington, D.C., the government must prove that:  (1) the defendant entered the dwelling, building or room of another used for sleeping, (2) the defendant intended to commit a crime at the time of entry.

It is first degree burglary if the dwelling was occupied at the time of the entry. Second-degree burglary applies to all other entries, including entries in unoccupied dwellings and entries into other types of buildings, structures, or vessels whether or not they are occupied.  It would, for example, be a second degree burglary for a person to enter with intent to commit a crime a bank, store, stable, stockyard, or railroad car.

Burglary is a felony offense in D.C.  The penalty for first-degree burglary is 5 to 30 years imprisonment.  The penalty for second-degree burglary is 2 to 15 years. D.C. Criminal Code 22-801(a).  D.C. Criminal Code 22-801(b).

Entering any private dwelling, public building or other property or remaining within such property without lawful authority but without any intent to commit a crime would constitute the lesser offense of unlawful entry on property.  “Private dwelling” is defined as a privately owned house, apartment, condo or any other building used as living quarters.  The maximun penalty for this offense is a $1,000 fine and 180 days of imprisonment. D.C. Criminal Code 22-3302.


Virginia distinguishes between common law burglary (in which the entry must occur at night-time) and statutory burglary (which requires intent to commit an enumerated offense or felony).

In order to secure a conviction for common law burglary in Virginia, the government must prove that:  (1) the defendant broke and entered the dwelling house of another, (2) the defendant did so at night-time, and (3) he did so with the intent to commit either larceny or felony offense.  If the defendant was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of entry, the offense becomes armed burglary.

The penalty for a conviction of common law burglary in Virginia five to 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.  The punishment for armed common law burglary is 20 years to life imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $100,000.

There are three forms of statutory burglary in Virginia.  First, there is Breaking and Entering with Intent to Commit Murder, Rape, Robbery or Arson, which is punishable by five to 20 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

Second, there is Breaking and Entering With Intent to Commit Larceny, Assault and Battery, or Felony Other Than Murder, Rape, Robbery, or Arson. This offense is punishable by one to 20 years imprisonment, confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of not more than $2,500.

The third and final form of statutory burglary is Breaking and Entering A Dwelling House with Intent to Commit A Misdemeanor Other than Trespass or Assault and Battery.  The punishment for this offense is one to 5 years of imprisonment, confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of not more than $2,500.

“Entering” occurs whenever any part of a person’s body comes within the premises.  “Breaking” is defined as the use of some force, however slight, to gain entry. Actual breaking requires the use of physical force.  Constructive breaking requires the use of threats, fraud, trickery, conspiracy, or other malevolent conduct designed to prompt the victim to let the defendant inside.  A “dwelling house” is defined as a building that is used for habitation. Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-89. Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-90. Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-91. Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-92.