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Burglary - Modern Statutory Scheme

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The old common law requirement of a "breaking" is rarely found in modern statutes. Instead there is often found such language as "unauthorized entry" or "unlawful entry." There may also be varying degrees of burglary (first degree, second degree, and so on) depending on the level of seriousness. States have expanded the scope of burglary so that the crime intended by the entrant may not necessarily need to be classified as a felony for the elements of burglary to be met.

As noted above, only the intent to commit a crime, not the success in completing it, is required to make out the elements of burglary. One might note that the proximity to success that is accomplished by the burglar is not taken into account by the statutory schemes. Therefore, it can be said that the intent to commit a crime found in the burglary definition is a somewhat more relaxed standard than the standard used to define an attempt to commit a crime (itself punishable in other criminal situations), the latter generally being defined by the actor's steps taken to effectuate the act and his proximity to the completion thereof. A burglar is guilty of burglary the moment he unlawfully enters a building intending to commit a crime. Whether he makes it one step into the building or actually completes the crime does not alter his guilt for the burglary statutes.

Under many statutes a burglar may be subject to two punishments if he or she completes the intended act. A perpetrator may be punished for both burglary and the crime committed therein. Under ordinary attempt law, the attempt is only punished when the crime remained incomplete.

Because modern statutory schemes have expanded the old common law element of a home to include a structure or building, critics have noted that the law of burglary has so far evolved from its modern origins that the original rationales for this cause of action no longer apply. Nevertheless, burglary is a widely recognized crime in modern American culture, and is clearly an offense that will remain cognizable by legal authorities.

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