N.J.S.A. 2C:18-1 defines a burglary as the unlawful entry into a “structure” for the purpose of committing a crime when in the structure. A structure means any “building, room, ship, vessel, car, vehicle or airplane, and also means any place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or for carrying on business therein, whether or not such person is actually present.”
Most of the time a burglary charge results from the breaking and entering into a house or apartment. People will often say that “my house was robbed.” Although this description is not legally accurate the charge of burglary means the same thing. Ordinarily, in a burglary the thief will take whatever is of any resale value. This includes mostly jewelry and electronics.
Very infrequently a burglary will take place when the owner is home. In a residential area, the burglar will often stake out the area and quickly figure out who is home. In general, the burglar does not do any damage to the property like vandalism but that sometimes happens.
In order to defend a burglary charge, a careful evaluation of the evidence is the first step. Most of the time, the evidence is circumstantial or forensic. I defended a client who was accused of burglary in a house break in based on her fingerprints being found on a table near a stereo that was stolen. I was able to convince the prosecutor to drop the case because my client had been in the house months earlier working for a cleaning company. The police focused on her because she had a prior drug conviction.
Often, both the police and residents will be quick to accuse someone of burglary even though the house was not broken into. You ask, how is that possible? What happens is that the person ends up getting accused of “attempted” burglary. I was able to get an “attempted” burglary charge dismissed where my client was walking around a neighborhood looking into windows. He never as much as opened a window. I was able to get the prosecutor to drop the case.