Types of Burglary Charges in DC

In the District of Columbia, there are two degrees of burglary, both of which are felony offenses. First-degree burglary occurs in a dwelling with a person present, while second-degree burglary can occur in any building and doesn’t necessarily involve another person present. Both charges have severe penalties including required time of incarceration, thereby making it important that anyone charged, consult with burglary attorney in DC as soon as possible.

First Degree Burglary

First-degree burglary is charged if a defendant is accused of entering into someone’s dwelling, such as a house or an apartment, enters a person’s room with someone present in the building, and they intended to either take something, commit some form of theft, or commit any other criminal offense.

The penalty for first-degree burglary is a term in prison of not less than five years and no more than 30 years. Second-degree burglary is similar, however, a person does not have to be present in the building, the space is beyond a sleeping room, and involves any piece of property entered without permission.

Second Degree Burglary

If a person enters the property, whether daytime or nighttime and their intent is to commit some form of theft or other criminal offense they have committed second-degree burglary. If they are convicted, burglary in the second degree has a punishment of not less than two years in prison and no more than 15 years.

Second-degree burglary charges happen more often than first-degree burglary charges because second-degree covers a much wider breadth of structures. As opposed to a first-degree burglary, second-degree includes entrance to any type of building without permission, not just a place where someone dwells, such as a house or apartment is considered in a second-degree burglary. Therefore, more often a second-degree burglary charge will occur because a person broke into a business with the intent to either commit a theft or criminal act therein.

It is important to know that when burglary was first enacted it required someone to physically break into a building, such as by forcing a lock. Additionally, a burglary was defined as something that occurred at night. Over the years, the definition of burglary and the statutes prohibiting burglary have been changed to no longer require the offense to take place at night or be a break-in. For example, if a person does not have permission to be in a building but sees an open door, they are not then entitled to go into that building and steal something.

Conspiracy or Attempt

An attempt would be an individual actually trying to commit the crime. An attempted burglary, therefore, would be someone trying to commit a burglary. Because burglary does not require that you actually steal something, or actually commit a crime once you have entered into the property, only that you had the intent to commit any kind of crime, then an attempted burglary would be someone trying to enter the property but not being successful.

In other words, the government still has to prove that an individual intended to commit some kind of crime once inside the property. For an attempt, however, the individual would have had to make some efforts to enter into the property with intent to commit a crime and was unsuccessful in doing so.

Conversely, conspiracy is where more than one person have agreed to commit a criminal act. Therefore, a conspiracy to commit burglary would not require that anyone actually entered the property, only that two or more people plotted, schemed, or agreed that they would take the action of committing burglary.

That can impact the case in the sense that if one or more people are charged with an actual offense of burglary, other people could be charged with conspiracy, attempt, or both. If there are multiple defendants or they are alleging there was an agreement to perform a criminal action, it can make a case much more complex. It also means there are more accusations that need to be defended against, rather than just the action of committing a burglary or attempting to commit a burglary. It could also include plans with others to do so, even if a burglary did not occur.

In Addition to the Underlying Offense

The government will not charge both the underlying offense and attempt upfront because an attempt would be a lesser-included offense. However, often what happens if a case does go to trial is that once all the evidence has come in, either the government or the defense can ask that the jury is given the option to consider attempt, as well as the completed offense. Meaning, if they are unable to reach a unanimous verdict as to whether the defendant committed the burglary, they could then consider whether they can unanimously decide that the person did or did not commit an attempted burglary.

An individual can absolutely be charged with conspiracy on the underlying offense. Burglary is a very serious felony in DC, as it is in most jurisdictions. Any crime which involves more than one person plotting and scheming to commit the crime is considered even worse by the courts and prosecutors. Therefore, they will charge anyone who was involved in planning a felony offense like burglary with the conspiracy, and anyone who actually did commit the offense will be charged with the burglary itself.

A prosecutor will want to charge any and all crimes they can against a defendant and will want to charge anyone they believe was connected with the case as a defendant. In certain circumstances if law enforcement becomes aware of a criminal enterprise or some form of scheme to commit some criminal act, they may try to use wiretaps or other witnesses to make sure they have gathered all of the evidence they need to show the existence of the conspiracy. If they can establish definitively that there was a conspiracy they are not going to wait for the burglary to actually occur, because that can be a very violent offense. They will look to see what evidence they have to make sure they capture any and all people related to the burglary.


Like in any felony case in the District of Columbia, the government cannot simply proceed by filing charges. They actually have to go to a grand jury at some point and secure an indictment. They have the grand jury vote upon which charges will be brought against the defendant or defendants in that case. In a misdemeanor case, conversely, the government just files the charges and the grand jury is not involved. The government need not present the case to the grand jury to ensure that there is probable cause, they can just file the charging document.

Whereas, in a burglary case, because by definition a burglary is a felony in D.C., the government has to secure the indictment. If the defendant is in custody while the case is proceeding, then the government will have to do so within 90 days of the defendant being placed into custody in the case. If the defendant is out of custody, then the government has to secure an indictment within nine months.

Indictment After Arrest

An indictment before an arrest will not typically occur in a Superior Court case in the District of Columbia. Particularly with a case like burglary,  the charges are filed after the event has occurred almost every time. In other words, someone has either committed burglary or attempted to do so and is arrested by the police right then and there, or after an investigation determines which person is the suspect and has to be charged. Then the person will be arrested and become a defendant, and thereafter the prosecutors will seek an indictment.

Important First Steps

If a person believes they are being investigated or perhaps will be arrested for any type of criminal charge, they need to find and retain an attorney who is experienced with criminal defense in that jurisdiction. They need to cease making any comments or statements to law enforcement, without an attorney being with them.

Additionally, they should not talk about the situation with other people, in order to avoid creating witnesses. In many cases, the individual is a suspect and the government has some reason to believe they are involved in criminal activity. So if law enforcement officers start talking to other people who may know the suspect, or who may have talked to the suspect, and if it turns out the suspect has been either bragging or discussing their involvement in the crime with other people, then the government has those other people as witnesses.

One thing to note is that the prosecution can use an admission by a defendant against the defendant. It is an exception to the hearsay rule. In many cases where the government started with a very weak prosecution, through the defendant’s own statements the government is able to secure a conviction.

Public Record

Any criminal charge against an adult will be a public record, and so a burglary charge will be viewable by anyone in the public. Certain aspects can be viewed online at the court website. Copies of documents can be gathered by individuals who go to the courthouse because it is a public matter. In addition, the proceedings themselves, in all but a few, extremely rare circumstances, will be public. So any hearings and the trial itself are a public matter at the courthouse.

Charges Outside the US

Charges are occasionally pursued for acts committed outside of the US borders. Normally the United States only has jurisdiction over what happens within its borders, but there are certain circumstances, particularly with the use of computers in international communications and actions, where something can happen outside the United States.

If a United States citizen is involved in the planning of the crime or in any kind of transaction involved in the crime, they could be charged. An example could be anything happening with terrorism. As you can imagine, the laws are very broad and anything that is seen as supporting a terrorist organization, even if the terrorist organization is not operating within the United States, will certainly be pursued vigorously by the authorities.