Property Crimes


Property crimes are very common, and involve the alleged taking of money or property.  These offenses are generally grouped into the following categories:

Burglary.  Burglary is typically defined as the unlawful entry into almost any structure with the intent to commit any crime inside. No physical breaking and entering is required; the offender may simply trespass through an open door. There need not be any forcible taking of property, like robbery, which is usually classified as a violent crime.  The definition of burglary arises out of state law, and thus, the components of the crime may differ slightly depending on the state. Federal criminal law incorporates the meaning of burglary used by the state that the crime occurred in.  Most states use the same basic definition of burglary:

  1. The unauthorized breaking and entry.  This can be actual breaking, or “constructive” breaking, with no force used.
  2. Into a building or occupied structure.  An abandoned structure generally will not qualify.
  3. With the intent to commit a crime inside.  The crime intended inside the structure need not be stealing; it can be any felony crime.  But the crime needs to be separate from the break-in itself.

Some states further divide burglary into “degrees”, that is, “burglary in the second degree”, etc, depending on the circumstances and on whether a person was in the residence at the time of the intrusion.

Shoplifting.  Generally, shoplifting is composed of two elements: (1) willfully concealing or taking possession of items being offered for sale; and (2) the intent to deprive the items’ rightful owner (typically the store) of possession of the items, without paying for the item. 

Bad Checks.  These charges come about when something of value has been received, in return for which the vendor got a “bounced” check.  These can be a grey area between civil and criminal law, and prosecutors can look to the overall circumstances.  Our experience is that too many of these charges are really civil collection matters, and do not belong in criminal court.  Depending on the situation, some prosecutors look for some higher level of “fraud” in these cases, such as closing the bank account, or if someone has put a stop-payment order on the check.

Theft. This is the taking of something of value from another, with the intent to deprive the owner of rightful possession.

Arson.  This is the willful or malicious burning of property.  It is often seen in conjunction with attempts to commit insurance fraud.  It is a serious felony and is investigated by very trained units.  These cases, while rare, can involve a high level of scientific evidence and expert testimony.

Tampering.  This is the interference in the ownership or possession of the property of another.  It is commonly found in relation to auto cases, or other transportable property.

Property Damage.  Depending on the level of damage caused to the property of another, this can either be a felony or a misdemeanor.  It can happen when someone attempts to degrade, deface, or destroy the property of someone else.

Each of these crimes listed here has specific elements that will differ from state to state. There may also be slight variations on what these offenses are called.  If you or someone you know is facing a charge involving an allegation of a property crime, you need to speak with an experienced attorney without delay.

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