Is it breaking and entering if the door is unlocked?

In North Carolina, burglary is a subcategory to the crime of breaking and entering. The law defines both crimes as unlawfully entering a building, however, burglary is breaking and entering a dwelling place (as the law defines) while the latter applies to any other building or structure.

What criteria determine whether you “broke” into a place and whether your entry was lawful? And is it possible to face a charge for entering a building if the door was unlocked? Taking a closer look at North Carolina’s statutory definitions will help address this question.

Degrees of offenses

State code separates breaking and entering crimes into degrees that weigh the relevant conditions. There are two degrees of burglary, for example, based on whether the residence you entered was occupied or vacant. Both are felonies.

Simple breaking and entering alone is a misdemeanor crime for most first offenses, but it can easily become a felony if the unwelcome visitor enters with the intent to steal, harm another person, damage property or commit any felony.

Breaking or entering

Although we commonly call the crime “breaking and entering,” the letter of the law in North Carolina designates it “breaking or entering,” emphasizing the fact that one need not pick any locks or break down any doors to receive a conviction. Any time you enter a structure unlawfully or without permission, you may technically be breaking and entering. But it can help your defense to demonstrate that you did not undergo additional effort to enter. Likewise, damaging any property while attempting to enter a building unlawfully could increase charges from a misdemeanor to a felony.

In short, the state may charge you with either breaking and entering even if the window was open or the door, unlocked; however, the law does make a distinction in the severity of crimes based on these and other factors. And you will probably have a stronger defense if you crossed fewer barriers to entry.