Burglary has a long history in the jurisprudence of nearly all cultures, and Florida has a well-developed set of laws prohibiting the practice. The Florida burglary laws have a great deal of nuance, and we will attempt to give at least a thumbnail sketch of them in the article below.
There is no clear consensus on the origin of the term “burglary.” One theory has the term arising from the combination of the German words burgh and laron, translating literally to “house-thieves.” Another theory is that the term arises from the Latin word bugare, “to break open,” or the word burgus, “fortress” or “castle.”
Prohibitions against burglary can be found in both the Code of Hammurabi and the Jewish Tanakh. An early mention of it is in Sir Edward Coke’s seventeenth-century treatise Institutes of the Lawes of England, and the crime is later expanded upon by Sir William Blackstone’s landmark commentary on law a century later.
English common law held burglary to be
- The breaking
- and entering the house of another
- in the night time
- with intent to commit a felony therein
A “breaking” did not require property damage, as entering a room or place one was not permitted to be or threatening another in order to gain access also qualified. “Entering” could be accomplished by either a person or an instrument, but the entering must have occurred as a result of the breaking.
A house need only be a dwelling, whether occupied or not, but a building used only occasionally as a dwelling did not meet the criteria. Meanwhile, “night time” was defined as the time beginning half an hour after sunset and ending half an hour before sunrise. Breaking into a person’s home at night was seen to be more serious due to the increased terror of the act and the fact that the one committing it could not be easily recognized. Also, only the intent to commit a felony was required, even if no felony actually occurred.
In Florida, burglary is defined as the entry or occupation of the premises of another with the intent to engage in unlawful activity. The state must show that the defendant had specific intent at the time, and it must also prove that the defendant was unauthorized to be in the location, either by showing that he never had permission to be there or the permission he did have was withdrawn.
Burglary in Florida is prosecuted in one of three felony degrees. Using a motor vehicle to gain entry or causing more that $1,000 in damage to the dwelling makes the burglary automatically a first degree felony.
If the defendant is not alleged to have committed an assault and battery or use a deadly weapon during the burglary, the prosecution will be for a second degree felony. If the defendant enters an unoccupied structure or vehicle, the crime is prosecuted as a third degree felony.
If the defendant is convicted of burglary, the penalties can be severe. In the case of a third degree burglary, the defendant may be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined up to $5,000. A second degree burglary can lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000, while a first degree burglary can carry a life sentence and result in a fine of $10,000.