In some states, burglary (entering a building without permission with intent to commit a crime) is divided into first, second, and sometimes third degree burglaries. First degree crimes are always the most serious. Depending on what state you are in, second degree burglary may refer to an unarmed burglary in which no one is injured or a home invasion burglary (burglary of a dwelling). For more general information on burglary, see Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing and Home Invasions.
Burglary laws vary from state to state. For example, in Colorado, a person commits second degree burglary by entering into any building, such as a home, a store, or a warehouse, with the intent to commit a crime inside. A person commits first degree burglary in Colorado if, during the burglary of a building, the defendant or a codefendant:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § § 18-4-202, 18-4-203.)
For example, a person who breaks into someone’s garage and threatens the homeowner with a gun has committed first degree burglary. Many states maintain this distinction between violent or armed (first degree) burglaries and unarmed, non-violent (second degree) burglaries. In some states, violent or armed burglaries are referred to as “aggravated burglaries.”
In other states, such as Alabama, armed and violent burglaries are first degree burglaries, while second degree burglary refers to a burglary of a dwelling (lacking the aspects of armed and violent). Burglaries of other buildings are third degree burglaries. A dwelling is any place that a person uses for sleeping or living, such as an apartment, a houseboat, or a trailer. In many states, a dwelling may be used regularly (a house) or occasionally (a hunting camp). (Ala. Code § § 13A-7-5, 13A-7-6, 13A-7-7.)
Burglary, even second degree burglary, is almost always a felony (a crime punishable by incarceration in state prison and, oftentimes, a fine). In a state where second degree burglary is any unarmed or non-violent burglary, then second degree burglary may be punishable by as little as one year in prison. In state where second degree burglary is a home invasion burglary, then second degree burglary may be punishable by as much as ten or 25 years in prison. Armed burglaries and burglaries in which people are injured are often punishable by 25 years’ or even life imprisonment.
If you are charged with burglary (in any degree), you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law in your state, answer any questions you might have about the criminal justice system, and evaluate your case to determine if you are in a good position to get the charges dismissed, plea bargain, or go to trial. An attorney can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your case and protect your rights.