Burglary and Arson Lawyers
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The two common law felonies of arson and burglary are crimes against property, but they also often involve physical danger to the victim, and so they may be classified separately from other property crimes. The common law definitions limited these crimes to dwelling houses-that is, buildings in which people lived. Modern statutes generally extend their coverage to other buildings, such as barns, warehouses, churches, stores, and garages, as well as some nonbuildings such as railroad cars and boats. Some arson statutes cover all forms of personal property.
Arson: The common law definition of arson is the malicious and voluntary burning of the dwelling house of another. The phrase of another means in the possession of another. Therefore, a landlord can be guilty of arson of his or her own house that is leased to a tenant. A dwelling house is a house where people customarily sleep, although no person need be in the house at the time of the burning. The term may include outbuildings associated with the house, such as barns and stables, especially where they are enclosed with the house by a common hedge, fence, or wall.
Malicious and voluntary means that the arsonist must intentionally, or perhaps recklessly, burn the house. No malice in the literal sense of ill will is required. The house need not be entirely or even largely destroyed. The burning of a small portion of the house, such as a part of the floor, wall, or door is sufficient. However, more than a blackening by smoke or scorching of the wood is necessary to constitute arson.
Modern statutes have generally altered the common law definition of arson in two ways. They provide that the burning of property other than dwelling houses and the burning of one's own property to defraud an insurance company also constitute arson.
Burglary: The common law definition of burglary is breaking and entering the dwelling house of another in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony therein. The requirement of breaking is satisfied by forcing open a locked door or window, by opening a closed but unlocked door or window, or even by opening wider a partly closed door or window to obtain entry. If the person had the resident's consent to enter, then the use of force to gain entry is not a breaking. Entering is satisfied by a person's passing entirely through the door, window, or other opening by putting any portion of the body through or even by holding a pole or other item through the opening while angling for some property inside.
A dwelling house includes outbuildings in the area surrounding a house. To be the subject of burglary, the structure must be the dwelling of someone other than the accused person. The intended felony is usually grand larceny, but it may be murder, rape, arson, or one of the other felonies. A person has the required intent to commit a felony if he or she intends to steal whatever can be found, even if in fact there is nothing of value in the dwelling. A person is guilty of burglary even if arrested before he or she can commit the felony, as burglary is complete upon breaking and entering with the requisite intent.
Modern statutes have enlarged the scope of the common law definition of burglary in various ways. They sometimes eliminate the requirement of a breaking, so that an entry without a breaking may still constitute burglary. Some statutes consider gaining entry by means of fraud, threat, or intimidation to be constructive breaking-that is, the legal equivalent of forceful breaking. Modern statutes also typically provide that breaking into certain nonbuildings-such as railroad cars, automobiles, and boats-constitutes burglary. Most modern statutes have abandoned the requirement that the breaking and entering occur at night. Finally, some statutes provide that a person commits burglary if he or she has an intention to commit a misdemeanor-rather than an intention to commit a felony-after breaking and entering.
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