Burglary is typically defined as the unlawful entry into almost any structure (not just a home or business) with the intent to commit any crime inside (not just theft/larceny). No physical breaking and entering is required; the offender may simply trespass through an open door. Unlike robbery, which involves use of force or fear to obtain another person’s property, there is usually no victim present during a burglary.
For example, John enters Victor’s boathouse through an open window, intending to steal Victor’s boat. Finding the boat is gone, John returns home. Though he took nothing, John has committed burglary.
The crime of burglary has been around for a long time. It originally developed under the common law, but states have incorporated the basic idea of burglary into their penal codes, albeit with some slight modifications. For instance, under the common law definition of burglary, the crime had to take place in the dwelling house of another at night. Most states have subsequently broadened the definition of burglary to include businesses and illegal entries during the day.
Burglary developed to protect a person’s interest in their home and to prevent violence, not to protect against theft. Other laws criminalize the taking of property; instead, burglary is meant to safeguard the sanctity of a person’s home and to protect against the possible violence that could arise if someone discovers a burglar in their house.