Can You Face Criminal Charges for Breaking and Entering in NJ?


Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain what Happens when You get Caught Breaking and Entering in Ocean County

Breaking and entering, most commonly charged as burglary, occurs when someone enters a structure or remains in a structure without permission to commit a crime or offense (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2).

What is Legally Considered Breaking and Entering in New Jersey

For the purposes of burglary, a structure can be anything, such as a school, home, room, vehicle, boat, plane, utility company, or research facility. It includes temporary homes or businesses, also, like a tent or kiosk in a mall. In other words, anywhere someone lives or conducts business can be the site of a burglary. For example, though not technically a structure, a school playground may be considered an extension of the school classrooms and, thus, a structure for purposes of burglary. An enclosed parking lot where vehicles are kept is considered a structure just as a car dealership sales office. Therefore, everything from cars to research facilities, residences, pharmacies, and the like are structures within the meaning of the law.

Entering a structure where you do not belong is another component of burglary. So, breaking open a front door lock to a home or smashing a window to a car is entering as well as pushing open an unlocked door. Entering or remaining in places that are not open to the public, contain signs prohibiting trespass, or are not otherwise accessible without permission or authorization is considered entering for breaking and entering. Even if someone has a key or deceives another to let them into a store, home, or other structure, they can still be charged with burglary if they used the key without permission. And you cannot enter a part of a store or building for employees only if you are not an employee. Staying inside a store after it closes is also entry for trespassing or burglary purposes.

An Example of Breaking and Entering in Toms River

After a few beers, you and a group of friends decide to hop the fence of your old elementary school to fool around on the playground. As you head back out, one friend turns the knobs of each classroom along the way. When one knob turns, they open the door and go inside the classroom. Checking out the students’ work and desks while opening desk drawers and cupboards in the classroom, rifling through papers and supplies, you and your friends find alluring items. One friend looks inside a desk to find some markers and a handheld game console that they take after drawing obscene pictures on the desk. Another friend takes the computer monitor and a mini tape recorder from the teacher’s desk. Others pick up various items, including staplers, crayons, and a backpack someone left behind. As you leave the classroom, the janitor sees you and calls the police, who arrest you for breaking and entering.

While the county prosecutor may charge you or your friends with burglary, they may also charge you with criminal trespass and theft, possibly even robbery if a knife is considered taking of the stolen items by force.

The Difference between Burglary and Trespassing in Jackson

You must enter a structure without permission to commit burglary or trespass. The difference is your intention for entering a forbidden structure. Burglary includes the intention to commit a crime when entering the structure. Thus, if you and your friends did not intend to commit a crime when hopping the locked fence of the schoolyard, you may be charged with trespassing but maybe not burglary. However, the intent to enter a classroom, even an unlocked one, may or may not be burglary, depending on whether the intruder formed an intent upon entering the classroom door. Taking the monitor, game, and other items from the classroom, may be seen as evidence of the intent to commit theft.

Not only burglary and theft, but trespassing is a likely charge too. Trespassing is the unauthorized entry onto another’s property, whether that property is a structure or open land (N.J.S.A 2C:18-3). There is no need to enter with an intent to commit a crime or offense. The mere entry or remaining on someone’s property without permission is enough. And a trespasser can assume a property is off-limits if signs, fences, or locked doors indicate the property is not meant for the public to access. Thus, they know they are breaking the law by going where the property owner forbids them to go.

Lower and Higher Degrees from Unlicensed Entry of Structures, to Criminal Trespass

The higher degree of the punishment for criminal trespass depends on the property. For example, merely going onto a property that signs and fences suggest is off-limits may be a disorderly persons offense that results in six months in jail or a petty disorderly persons offense, risking 30 days in jail. However, going to schools, public utilities, research facilities, homes, restricted areas in airports, wastewater treatment centers, and power plants without permission raises the violation from a disorderly persons offense to a fourth-degree crime of criminal trespass (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3). Then, the trespasser faces up to 18 months’ incarceration.

Burglary Charges for Breaking and Entering, Penalties

Usually a third degree crime, burglary convictions result in a potential five years in prison. You could also pay up to $15,000. In fines. However, burglary is also a second-degree crime if someone was injured during the crime or the accused had a deadly weapon while committing the burglary. Even threatening injury to someone else could lead to a second degree burglary conviction. So, if one of your friends brandished a knife at the janitor, the charge may be second degree burglary that carries a potential sentence of ten years in prison with a $150,000.00 fine.

Charged with Theft from Breaking and Entering in Seaside Heights

Stealing items, services, identities, and anything of value is theft, which is basically an unconsented to taking of another’s property. A prosecutor who charges an accused of theft as a disorderly persons offense or indictable crime considers the circumstances. The grading of theft crimes usually depends on the value of the stolen items. An item worth more than $200.00 may result in fourth degree theft or if less, a disorderly persons offense. For example, whether the theft was a $10.00 item in a convenience store or a higher-value item taken by fraud or a shoplifting device. It also matters whether the theft occurred during the commission of other crimes, which raises the crime grade.

Criminal Mischief Charge After Breaking and Entering in Manchester

Another possible charge is criminal mischief if property inside the structure were broken or destroyed. Even graffiti is considered criminal mischief. The degree of the crime depends on the amount of damage and where it was committed but could range from disorderly persons, to third or fourth, or even second degree criminal mischief with prison time and restitution payments.

Do You Have to Go to Jail for Breaking and Entering in Ocean County NJ?

Though multiple charges raise the number of potential years in prison, a first-time offender commonly does not end up in prison unless the person commits a second or first degree crime. Suppose the incident is your first offense, or your criminal behavior resulted from drug or alcohol addiction. Then, you might qualify for programs offered through the superior and municipal courts to help those who want to keep a clean criminal record through completion of a supervised program rather than incarceration. An attorney can determine whether you a good candidate for a diversionary program that is designed to oversee your arrest-free living, your job status, and your future for a fresh start. Depending on the level of the charges you face, Pre-Trial Intervention or Conditional Dismissal might be a good way to stay out of jail for your first offense.

Breaking and Entering Case? Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney at our Local Point Pleasant Office

To get yourself out of a slew of trouble with the law, you probably will not make much headway with a prosecutor by explaining what happened. You might make your situation worse. Your better option is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to speak on your behalf. An attorney with burglary, theft, trespassing and similar background can design a plan for your defense and keep you from making a bad situation worse. At William Proetta Criminal Law, we examine all of the evidence, the crimes charged, the strength of the state’s case, and the potential defenses that can be used to get your charges dismissed or reduced to lesser offenses, to come up with the best plan of action for handling your case.

With decades of combined experience in criminal law and defense, our attorneys are poised and practiced when it comes to defending you. If you got arrested for breaking and entering anywhere in Ocean County, such as Brick, Jackson, Toms River, Lacey, Berkeley Township, or Stafford, call (848) 238-2100 now for a free consultation. Get legal help and counsel by contacting our local office in Point Pleasant today.

William Proetta

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.