breaking and entering

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Breaking and entering is the entering of a building through force without authorization. The slightest force including pushing open a door is all that is necessary. Breaking also includes entering a building through fraud, threats, or collusion. To constitute entering, it is sufficient if any part of the accused’s body is introduced within a building. It is not considered breaking and entering if the premises are at the time open to the public or the person is licensed or privileged to enter.

The common law defined burglary as the breaking and entering of the dwelling house of another in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony. If there is no such intent to commit a felony, the breaking and entering may constitute illegal trespass.

Many states no longer require the element of breaking to be guilty of burglary or illegal trespass. For example:

In New York, a “person is guilty of burglary in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.”

In Michigan, “any person who breaks and enters or enters without breaking, any dwelling, house, … or any other structure, whether occupied or unoccupied, without first obtaining permission to enter from the owner … is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]