Change in the Definition of Burglary

Burglary was first defined by Lord Coke in 1641 as the act of breaking in and getting into the dwelling of another person at night with the intention of committing a crime. The definition however started evolving soon after it was made. Between the Penal Code of 1962 and now, burglary lost its core actus reus which was entry. In most jurisdictions, it is possible to commit burglary by simply remaining in a dwelling with the intention of commit a crime. Such an offense covers a much wider range of situations thereby attracting an additional penalty which may be as severe as death. It is now possible to attach the crime to almost any crime that was committed indoors.

The Anglo-saxon definition of burglary included the breaking in or forced entry for the burglary to be committed (DeCoux, 2012). However, more recently, the definition has changed to one of merely entering or remaining in a place having the intention of committing a crime. While it has met with a lot a lot of challenges during this transformation, it has progressed to emerge leaner and more severe. It has now remained best described as a crime of committed in certain locations rather than the means.

It is probable that the common law definition of burglary has enabled burglary to continue exist as well as to change. The definition gave it the probability of being committed upon mere intent to commit the crime.

According to Anderson (2012), different jurisdictions have different statutory schemes of of burglary. Some states only recognize one crime of burglary. Others have divided it into several crimes depending on structure, intended crime and the status of the victim. There is a lot of inconsistency among the states about the definition of burglary and its elements. Along the way, most states have primed the description of burglary along the line of either the structure, the time (night time), breaking, entry and intent to commit to commit a crime.

Initially, the dwelling was defined as a structure that is regularly slept in. With time, however, the crime has broadened its scope to more structures including, churches, vehicles and outhouses (DeCoux, 2012). Most penal codes have collected long lists of structures which can be burglarized. While these do not agree, no state has remained with the initial definition of a dwelling.

As early as 1951, many states no longer had night time in their definition of burglary. However, it was still used to discern the degree of burglary. According to Anderson (2012), it was a requirement of the first degree burglary or the highest degree of burglary. It also had different definitions ranging from Coke’s definition of when a man’s face cannot be discerned to the time between thirty minutes after sunset to thirty minutes before sunrise.

The aspect of breaking in has also had its share of transformation. By 1951, over twelve jurisdictions did not require breaking for burglary to be committed (Cao, & Dai, 2001). Those that required it on the other hand, were willing to accommodate simple acts such as pushing an unlocked door or gaining entry through deceit. Currently, where it exists, the definition of breaking is mostly symbolic rather than literal.

In Coke’s definition of burglary, the aspect of entry was necessary. However, it needed not be literal. The entry of any part of the person’s body was sufficient to count as burglary. The entry by an object that was held by the person was also counted as burglary. Currently, the entry aspect has been eliminated as a whole in some jurisdictions to accept remaining in the structure to perpetrate a crime.

Finally, the aspect of intent has also varied over different jurisdictions (Anderson, 2012). While some jurisdictions have limited the criminals to a certain list, others still stick to any crime. This allows for any crime that is perpetrated within a structure to be potentially labeled as or inclusive of burglary.

In modern day, suppose James looks into Joe’s house through the window and spots a cash box. He shen plies open the door using a metal rod to gain access. James then uses the same metal rod to reach for the metal rod and get it out. Whether he succeeds or fails in obtaining the cash box, he is still guilty of burglary. The mens rea for conviction with burglary include entry with the intention to commit a crime or entering and committing the crime and the intention or carelessness to trespass.

Anderson, H. A. (2012). From the thief in the night to the guest who stayed too long: the evolution of burglary in the shadow of the common law. Indiana Law Review, 45629.

Cao, L., & Dai, Y. (2001). Inequality and crime in China. Contributions In Criminology And Penology, 53, 73-88.

DeCoux, E. L. (2012). Are the 2011 changes to federal rules of evidence 413-415 invalid? The rules enabling act and the drafters’ definition of ‘stylistic’. North Carolina Central Law Review, 34136.

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