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Understand Burglary in Illinois

Joseph Angelillo, Esq. May 7, 2021

Today, I’ll be covering the topic of Burglary.

Burglary is defined by 720 ILCS 5/19-1 which lays out the elements of Burglary as follows:

A person commits burglary when

  1. Without authority he or she knowingly enters or without authority remains within a building, housetrailer, watercraft, aircraft, motor vehicle, railroad car, or any part thereof,

  2. With intent to commit therein a felony or theft.

When it comes to crimes of Assault or Battery, there can be very direct evidence that can be obtained in order to prove the elements of said crimes. Burglary, on the other hand, is more often than not proven by circumstantial evidence.

The difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence can best be summarized like this. Lets say you wake up and look outside your window and see snow coming down, you can definitively say that it’s snowing because you had seen the snow coming down yourself. This would be considered to be direct evidence.

Now lets say before going to bed you looked out your window and your yard was completely clear; but upon waking up you see there is snow covering the ground, and it’s not currently snowing. Even though you did not see the snow coming down, you can say that it had snowed because of the snow left on the ground from the storm. This would be considered circumstantial evidence.

Occasionally, the fact pattern of cases are rather straight forward. An individual breaks into a building, tripping a silent alarm, the police arrive to find the perpetrator elbow deep in the register. But more often than not, the evidence needed for the State to obtain a guilty conviction will need to be circumstantial requiring a bit more finesse and a more thorough investigation. A Burglary charge is a very serious offense, and you would require a competent attorney in order to successfully overcome a Burglary charge should the case reach the trial stage.

A guilty conviction for burglary can range from a Class 3 to a Class 1 Felony depending on aggravating factors such as the area in which the Burglary took place, or whether or not any damage occurred as a result of the Burglary. The punishment for a Class 1 felony is a fine up to $25,000 and/or four to 15 years in state prison. A Class 3 felonies generally carry a potential prison sentence of between two and five years, plus one year of mandatory supervised release.

(1) Without Authority He or She Knowingly Enters or Without Authority Remains Within a Building;

While this element is presented as one single element, it can actually be broken up into two different situations. One being, when an individual knowingly enters a building without authority and when an individual, without authority, remains within a building.

A charging document, which lays out the specific elements a Defendant is accused of committing, can actually fail if the charging document claims that the Defendant had knowingly entered without authority when the facts of the case reveal that they merely remained within a building without authority.

Lets say you walk into a Walgreens to pick up some Claritin, because it’s allergy season and if you’re like me you’re suffering; and after going down the aisle and picking up a box you realize you forgot your wallet in your car. Now, God forbid you just leave the box and return to your car to get your wallet, you’re in no mood for that. So you think to yourself, ‘hey, you know what I love? Claritin. You know what I love more than Claritin? Free Claritin.’

And so you pocket the box and make a brisk walk out the door before Paul Blart truck sticks you at the exit.

So lets break this down from the beginning, you entered into the Walgreens without any intent to do anything other than pick up allergy medicine. Because a Walgreens is considered to be a public place, and you were inside during its normal business hours, it cannot be said that you knowingly entered without authority with the intent to commit a burglary. By the time you decided to steal the medicine, you were already inside of the establishment. Because the intent to take the medicine was formed after you had already entered the establishment, it cannot be said that you knowingly entered the building with the intent to commit a theft.

Lets take the same example again, but instead of leaving your wallet in the vehicle, you actually left it at home; and the internal dialogue you have about free drugs actually takes place before you entered the building. So, Burglary or not? Burglary.

Even though the Walgreens is considered to be a public place in which anyone has the authority to enter in order to shop, an otherwise lawful entry into a public area can become unauthorized when the individual in question enters with the intent to commit a theft. That’s because Walgreens wants you to come inside, they want you to walk around and peruse their remarkable selection of clearance sale Easter candy, but they draw the line at allowing people to steal. An otherwise lawful authorized entry into a building can become unauthorized when an individual, prior to entering, does so with the intent to commit a burglary.

‘Without authority remains within a building,’ is, in my mind, in place to answer the question for all of the children that ever wondered what it would be like to hide behind the bikes inside Toys r’ us and wait for after closing time in order to play with the Nerf guns. This part of the element, much like the first one, asks the question ‘at what time did the Defendant have the intent to commit Burglary?’

People v. Vallero (61 Ill. App. 3d 413, 415 (3rd Dist. 1978)) dealt with this question when the Defendant had entered into the office area of a fast food restaurant and requested a job application to fill out. He was given the form and asked to sit at a nearby desk to fill it out, during which time an employee of the restaurant was preparing payroll checks for their employees. The Defendant saw the checks, asked to use the bathroom, and then returned his employment form blank before exiting the building. At which time, the employee handling the payroll checks noticed a great deal of them missing. Now on its face it may seem that the Defendants actions satisfy this element, because he formed the necessary intent and remained within the building. But the Court didn’t find this argument compelling because, once again, the intent was formed after the Defendant had already entered the building. There was nothing on the record to suppose that the Defendant knew that the checks would be there prior to entering. So there was no way for the State to prove that the Defendant entered the building with the intent to commit theft.

(2) With Intent to Commit Therein a Burglary or Theft

We’ve dipped our toes into this element a little bit during the explanation of the first element, but the Burglary Statute requires the State to prove two distinct mental elements. The first, in the first element, requires the State to prove that the Defendant knowingly enters a building. The second element deals with the specific reason for why the Defendant had knowingly entered the building (or watercraft, vehicle, etc.) and that is the intent to commit a burglary or theft.

Here is where circumstantial evidence comes into play, because the State cannot make the Defendant take the stand and answer as to what was going through his mind on the day in question, that would be a violation of their 5th Amendment rights. What the State can do, however, in order to satisfy this element is direct the Jury (or Judge’s) attention to facts that will support the inference that the Defendant entered the premises with the intent to commit a burglary or theft.

Certain pieces of circumstantial elements could be finding items reported stolen on the Defendants person, or that the windows of a store had been broken into and ransacked was two minutes away from the Defendants known location at the time. There is no piece of circumstantial evidence that is insurmountable when conducted a competent defense, because whatever weight you or I may place on a specific piece of information may mean absolutely nothing to a jury.

What’s important to also understand here is that nothing needs to be actually stolen in order for the State to obtain a conviction for Burglary. If a Defendant kicks in the door of your local drug store after hours, and finds all the shelves have been wiped clean because everyone made a rush for the stores again because Corona Virus Part 2: Electric Boogaloo just dropped, it doesn’t matter that they walked away empty handed. What the elements ask is (1) did the Defendant knowingly make an unauthorized entry into the building (2) with the intent to commit a burglary or theft therein.

That’s all for now, and as always if you’ve been charged with a crime in the State of Illinois, contact my office immediately for your free consultation.