Legal Dictionary


Definition of burglary


burglary (plural burglaries)

  1. The crime of breaking into a vehicle, house, store, or other enclosure with the intent to steal.
  2. (law) Under the common law, breaking and entering of the dwelling of another at night with the intent to commit a felony.
  3. (law, US) Under the Model Penal Code, entering a building or occupied structure with purpose to commit a crime therein, unless the premises are at the time open to the public. Model Penal Code 221.1.

Related terms

  • burglar
  • burglar alarm
  • burglarize
  • burglarproof
  • burgle
  • cat burglar

See also

  • breaking and entering
  • trespass

Further reading

Burglary (also called breaking and entering and sometimes housebreaking) is a crime, the essence of which is entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offence. Usually that offence will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of burglary. To commit a burglary is to burgle (in British English) or burglarize (in American English).

Common law definition

The common law burglary was defined by Sir Matthew Hale as

    "The breaking and entering the house of another in the night time, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felony be actually committed or not."
  1. Breaking can be either actual, such as by forcing open a door, or constructive, such as by fraud or threats. Breaking does not require that anything be "broken" in terms of physical damage occurring. A person who has permission to enter part of a house, but not another part, commits a breaking and entering when they use any means to enter a room where they are not permitted, so long as the room was not open to enter.
  2. Entering can involve either physical entry by a person or the insertion of an instrument with which to remove property. Insertion of a tool to gain entry may not constitute entering by itself. It is generally required at common law that entry occurs as a consequence of the breaking. For example, if a wrongdoer partially opened a window by using a pry bar and then noticed an open door through which he entered the dwelling, there is no burglary at common law. The use of the pry bar would not constitute an entry even if a portion of the prybar "entered" the residence. Under the instrumentality rule the use of an instrument to effect a breaking would not constitute an entry. However, if any part of the perpetrator's body entered the residence in an attempt to gain entry, the instrumentality rule did not apply. Thus, if the perpetrator uses the prybar to pry open the window and then used his hands to lift the partially opened window, an "entry" would have taken place when he grasped the bottom of the window with his hand.
  3. House includes a temporarily unoccupied dwelling, but not a building used only occasionally as a habitation
  4. Night time is defined as hours between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise
  5. The most serious form of burglary was classed as felony when this definition was prevalent, and included larceny, a type of theft. This precludes licit break-ins whose intent cannot be for the commission of any crime, such as a forced entry to rescue a person from danger or to exercise a lawful arrest.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     landed property
3.     lex situs
4.     respondent
5.     default judgment
6.     tort law
7.     living will
8.     lex causae
9.     law
10.     salacious