A defendant facing burglary charges needs a strong defense. Fortunately, defendants have several options available to counter a burglary accusation. These defenses range from claiming actual innocence to admitting the behavior in question but arguing that it didn't in fact constitute burglary.
Before diving into the most common defenses to burglary charges, it will be useful to reexamine the elements of burglary that the prosecution must prove.
Burglary consists of:
- The unauthorized breaking and entry
- Into a building or occupied structure
- With the intent to commit a crime inside.
Each of these elements forms a necessary component of the overall burglary charge, so if the prosecution fails to prove one element, the entire case will fail.
The most basic defense and the one that most defendants will try is a claim of actual innocence. In other words, this defense involves convincing the court that the defendant did not commit the acts in question.
The prosecution bears the burden of proving a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, so in order to defeat a burglary charge a defendant must create a plausible doubt in the minds of the jury as to whether the prosecution's evidence truly demonstrates that they committed the crime.
Defendants can call the prosecution's evidence into question in many ways, such as by presenting an alibi or creating doubt as to the scientific reliability of a forensic technique. If the defendant can successfully sow the seeds of doubt among the jury, then an acquittal is likely.
Another defense tactic consists of admitting to the court that the defendant engaged in the behavior described by the prosecution, but arguing that it does not amount to a crime. Essentially, this involves negating one or more of the elements of burglary listed above.
Defendants commonly make the argument that they had the consent of the owner or occupier of the property to enter, thus there was no unauthorized breaking and entry. This is a particularly effective defense under certain circumstances.
For instance, if a defendant had consent to enter a property and the owner/occupier never explicitly revoked that consent, the defendant has a strong argument that there was no unauthorized breaking and entry. Even if the defendant erroneously believed that they had permission to enter the property, the belief in the consent of the owner could be enough to defeat the burglary charge assuming that the belief was reasonable.
Since burglary also involves the specific intent to commit a crime once inside a building, voluntary intoxication can act as a defense to the degree that it prevented the defendant from forming the required intent.
Finally, the defendant could argue that someone entrapped them by convincing them to commit the crime when they otherwise would not have. Entrapment is difficult to prove, but it can act as a defense to burglary if sufficiently supported by the evidence.