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Burglary - Origins Of The Offense

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Modern burglary statutes are the result of a long evolution from the early burglary laws found in England. The crime of burglary was one of the earliest of laws that was reduced to writing in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Burglary probably dates back in relation to the ancient Anglo-Saxon crime of "hamsoaken" ("hamesecken"), or housebreaking. William Blackstone describes burglary as "nocturnal housebreaking," and descendant from ancient law (p. 958). The early laws reflect the age-old maxim that "a man's home is his castle." Indeed, the legal systems of many different countries have historically contained laws to punish those who would invade or tamper with another's home. This was seen as a particularly violent and punishable act, both because of the element of personal danger likely to be involved in breaking into another's home, and also because it was a crime against the home itself, which has a sanctified place in many human cultures. There were strict definitions as to what constituted a house and what time of day was sufficient to be called nighttime in order to satisfy a burglary charge.

Burglary was defined in the common law as breaking and entering into a dwelling house belonging to another, at night, with the intent to commit a felony therein. If the dwelling was open so that no "breaking" was necessary to enter, there could be no burglary. Entering a dwelling was satisfied if the perpetrator merely reached his arm through a window—the focus being on the intrusion to the home itself rather than the body position of the perpetrator. The definition of a dwelling house was often extended to include appurtenances nearby. English common law had precise definitions as to what was night and what was daytime, but no American jurisdiction has followed this approach.

Burglary - Modern Statutory Scheme [next]

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