We all have a sense of what the crime of burglary entails—based on representations in TV, movies, and the news, most of us think of burglary as occurring when a masked criminal breaks into a stranger’s home in the middle of the night. However, the actual definition of burglary in the state of Illinois encompasses a lot more than just this scenario, and some people might actually be surprised to learn that their actions have warranted a burglary charge. Here are some of the basics that you need to know if you find yourself charged with burglary in Chicago or anywhere else in Illinois.
First, let’s look at the definition of burglary under Illinois state law 720 ILCS 5/19-1. Certain phrases have been bolded for emphasis:
“A person commits burglary when without authority he or she knowingly enters or without authority remains within a building, house trailer, water craft, aircraft, motor vehicle, railroad car, or any part thereof, with intent to commit therein a felony or theft.”
As you can see, there are a lot of actions encompassed in that one law. For example:
- Burglary does not just occur in a residential building. You can be charged with burglary for unlawfully entering a number of different building types or vehicles. Breaking into a car would still be classified as burglary.
- Burglary doesn’t have to involve forceful entry. If someone was originally invited into a building but stayed longer than the property owner intended them to with the intent to steal or commit another crime, they could be charged with burglary.
- The definition of burglary hinges on intent. If you did not actually steal, but a prosecutor can prove that you entered a building with the intention to steal or commit another crime on the property, you can be convicted of burglary.
Penalties for Burglary
If you’re charged with burglary and think that it’s a big misunderstanding, you still need to take the charge very seriously. Burglary is a Class 2 felony in Illinois, and it’s elevated to a Class 1 felony if the crime allegedly occurred in a school, day care center, group day care home, or place of worship. On top of that, you may also be charged with a Class 4 felony for Possession of Burglary Tools if you were found with any implements that could help you enter a building, such as a key, lock pick, or crowbar.
Any class of felony can result in prison time under Illinois state laws. A Class 2 felony conviction typically results in 3-7 year prison sentence, and a Class 1 felony typically results in 4-15 years (or more) of prison time. A felony sentence may also include a hefty fine, probation, and a lifelong stigma. A burglary conviction can affect the rest of your life, so contact a Chicago burglary attorney as soon as possible if you find yourself facing this charge.
Possible Defenses for Burglary
There are two general types of defense in a burglary case: actual innocence or an affirmative defense. If you claim actual innocence, you’re saying that you did not actually commit the crime of which you are accused. For example, maybe you know for a fact that you were somewhere else when the burglary allegedly occurred, and you can prove this by bringing in witnesses to testify that you were elsewhere at the time of the crime. If you were somewhere else but do not have anyone else to back up the alibi, you may still be able to argue that forensic evidence linking you to the scene of the crime is flawed—a DNA test may not have been properly processed in the lab, for example.
When you use an affirmative defense, you’re essentially saying that you did do what the prosecution is accusing you of, but that it can’t be considered a crime. Since burglary is based on intent, you may be able to argue that you believed you had permission to be on the property. For instance, maybe your neighbor gave you a key several months ago to water their plants while they were on vacation, and since they never asked for the key back, you believed you had permission to be on their property. You just have to prove that your belief in your right to be on the property was reasonable.
Even if you think that the prosecution has overwhelming evidence against you, you should work with an experienced defense attorney in an effort to prove there were mitigating circumstances in your case—or to prove that you did not commit a crime and that the charges against you should be dropped altogether.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.