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What Constitutes the Crime of Burglary in Massachusetts?

Criminal statutes are not known for their clear, concise language, and the Massachusetts burglary statute is no exception. Indeed, a quick read of the state’s burglary statute will likely leave a reader confused about what constitutes burglary in Massachusetts. However, the crime of burglary can be broken down into a few elements.

All crimes have two basic requirements, which are the “act” element and the “intent” element. For burglary cases, the act element is broken down into a few parts. First, a burglary requires an entry into a dwelling of another party. A dwelling is a structure that is designed to be occupied, but this does not necessarily require that the structure is actually occupied at the time of the entry. While, technically speaking, this element requires actual entry into a dwelling, a failed entry may still result in a prosecution for attempted burglary.

The second element of a Massachusetts burglary offense is that the unlawful entry must occur at night. This requirement, which was inherited from the Common Law, has been abandoned in most states; however, it remains a required element in Massachusetts. That being said, unlawful entry into a dwelling during the day is still a crime; it is just not considered a burglary.

The final – and most complex – element of a burglary offense is the intent element. To prove a burglary, the prosecution must be able to show that at the time of the unlawful entry, the defendant had the intent to commit a felony while inside the dwelling. The crime does not necessarily need to be one involving theft; it can be any felony. The statute does not require that a felony actually be committed, only that the person entering had the intent to commit one. Importantly, the intent must be present before the person’s unlawful entry. If the intent to commit a crime arises after the unlawful entry, the person should not be charged with burglary but with trespass (and whatever crime was committed while inside).

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case discussing the intent element of a burglary offense. In that case, a Michigan man was charged with the state crime of “home invasion,” which was defined as breaking and entering into a dwelling and, while inside, committing a misdemeanor. The Court was asked to determine if that offense constituted a burglary for the purposes of a federal repeat-offender law. Specifically, the Court must determine whether the federal definition of burglary requires the defendant to have the intent to commit a crime at the time of entry. If so, the defendant’s underlying conviction will not qualify as a burglary.

Have You Been Charged with a Serious Crime?

If you have recently been charged with a serious crime in or around the Boston area, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy. Attorney Murphy is an experienced criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients charged with serious felony offenses, including Massachusetts theft crimes, drug crimes, and gun crimes. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.