Robbery and Burglary Defense Lawyers

If you were arrested for burglary or robbery in North Carolina, you will need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. These charges are extremely serious, so if you rely on inexperienced legal counsel you will likely face a felony conviction.

While both offenses are usually prosecuted as state crimes, there are circumstances and related charges that can get the federal government involved. In North Carolina these crimes are almost always felonies, even for first-time offenses.

If you are facing an investigation or charges for burglary or robbery, you should contact an experienced attorney who can provide you with effective legal counsel. The criminal defense lawyers at Tarlton | Polk have the experience in both state and federal court to fight these charges to have them heavily reduced or dropped completely.

person commits robbery by shacking them violently for money

Burglary vs. Robbery

People often use the words robbery and burglary interchangeable, but they are actually distinct crimes. Before getting into the specific laws addressing each kinds of offense, the broad definitions are defined as follows:

  • Burglary: Illegally entering a building with intent to take something or commit a felony within.
  • Robbery: Using intimidation, fear, violence or other force to unlawfully take property from another person directly or within that person’s immediate presence.

There are a few key elements that we can see are shared or differ between these definitions. First, with robbery, the crime involves violence or threats towards another person, but burglary does not require anybody to be present. Additionally, while burglary typically involves theft or attempted theft, a person can be guilty of burglary if they commit any felony within the property they unlawfully entered. In robbery, taking or attempting to take property is always an element of the crime.

Robbery Laws in North Carolina

North Carolina uses the common law definition of robbery, so you can expect the crime to be defined similarly to other states and the federal government. Since this definition requires that another person was intimidated, threatened or harmed, robbery is considered a violent crime. Depending on the various factors of a robbery case, the crime can either be common law robbery or armed robbery.

Common Law Robbery

Common law robbery follows the definition laid out above, where a person is guilty of this crime if they use intimidation or violence to steal from another person. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class G felony if the perpetrator successfully stole something from the victim. While most laws treat attempted crimes the same as successful crimes the same, North Carolina law may be lighter on unsuccessful common law robbery, punishing it as a class H felony.

There are also other factors that could increase or mitigate the sentencing and charges, such as the amount of harm inflicted on the victim, whether the property stolen constitute additional crimes, or if the defendant has prior convictions. It is also possible to face multiple robbery convictions for offenses committed at the same time. For example, if a person intimidates two people an takes property from each of them, they will be guilty of two robberies.

Armed Robbery

Armed robbery is like common law robbery with the addition that it involves possession, use or threatened use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon that endangers or threatens another person.

While the law mentions that possession of a weapon can be punishable, it does require that the weapon is used or possessed in a way that threatens or endangers another person’s life. For example, For example, if a defendant had a weapon on their person but did not display or use it in any way to harm or threaten the victim, they may not be guilty of armed robbery.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class D felony. Unlike common law robbery, an attempted armed robbery in punished the same as a successful one.

Burglary Laws in North Carolina

North Carolina also uses the common law definition for burglary, so you can once again expect the crime to be similarly defined in other states and by the federal government. Compared to robbery, burglary is a somewhat broader crime as it relates it to other crimes like breaking or entering and safecracking.

First-Degree Burglary

A person is guilty of first-degree burglary if the break and enter into another person’s home at night and while the home is occupied, without consent and with the intent to commit any felony or larceny on the property.

While most of these elements are fairly straight-forward, the term “breaking” involves a great degree of variation resulting from how past cases were treated. Generally” breaking means creating some kind of opening to enter. This act does not require the use of destructive force, so simply opening an unlocked door without permission or going down an opened chimney without permission is “breaking”. Entering a fully opened door, however, is not “breaking”.

A successful first-degree burglary is convicted as a class D felony, while an attempted one is convicted as a class E felony.

Second-Degree Burglary

Second-degree burglary shares all the elements of first-degree burglary, with only two differences:

  • It does not require that the home or dwelling was occupied when the offense occurred.
  • Covers, in addition to homes and other dwellings, any building attached or forming a closure with the dwelling.

A successful first-degree burglary is convicted as a class G felony, while an attempted one is convicted as a class H felony.

Felony Breaking or Entering of a Building

A person is guilty of felony breaking or entering if the break or enter any building without consent with the intent to commit any felony or theft on the property.

This crime is therefore similar to second-degree burglary, but with three differences:

  • The act can be committed at any time
  • The crime applies to any building
  • The defendant only have to be guilty of either breaking or entering.

While the first two distinctions are rather straight-forward, the third is more unique. A person may be guilty of this crime by only breaking but not entering if they, for example, open a door with intent to steal but are caught and forced to flee. A person can also be guilty if they enter an opened door to any building and intend or attempt to steal or commit a felony when inside.

A conviction of this crime, whether successful or attempted, is usually punished as a class H felony, though there are the following exceptions for certain types of property:

  • Coin or Currency Operated Machine: When this offense is committed on a machine that takes currency such as a vending machine, pay-phone, or other currency activated device, a first offense is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor, and a second offense is punished as a class I felony.
  • Places of Worship: When this offense is committed in a place of worship, a conviction is punished as a class G felony.
  • Vehicle: When this offense is committed in a vehicle of any kind, a conviction is punished as a class I felony.

Misdemeanor Breaking or Entering of a Building

A person is guilty of misdemeanor breaking or entering when they break or enter any building without consent. Essentially, this crime only differs from felony breaking or entering because it does not involve intent to commit a felony or theft. A person can be guilty of this crime if they, for example, break into a building with the intent to sleep or use a restroom.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.

Possession of Burglar's Tools

A person is guilty of this crime if they are found in possession of a pick-lock, key, but or other tool used for housebreaking without a lawful excuse.

While the law only mentions possessing these items, the courts have found that the possession must be for the purpose of breaking in, as the state has the burden of proof to show the defendant had no lawful excuse.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class I felony.


A person is guilty of safecracking if he or she unlawfully opens, enters, or attempts to open or enter a safe or vault. There are many ways this crime can be committed, such through tools, stolen keys, explosives, or removing the safe from its premises to break into it later.

A conviction of safecracking is most often punished as a class I felony. The one exception is if the defendant used explosives to break open a safe after breaking and entering the building it was contained in, which is punished as a class D felony.

Can You Face Federal Charges for Robbery or Burglary?

While robbery and burglary charges are often left up to the states, the federal government has some laws, under 18 U.S.C § 103 which cover circumstances that involve the federal government, including:

  • Bank or post office burglary
  • Burglary or robbery on federal property or against federal agents.
  • Burglary or robbery of mail, money or other property of the federal government.
  • Burglary or robbery involving controlled substances belonging to or held by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Burglary or robbery of motor vehicles that have been transported across states or country borders.

Penalties for these crimes vary greatly depending on the act, and can range from 3 year prison sentences to 25 year sentences for a single first-time conviction, with additional fines.

Defending Against Robbery and Burglary Charges

For prosecution to convict you of robbery or burglary, they have the burden of proof to show that you committed all the required elements of the crime. With a skilled lawyer, evidence or lack thereof can be challenged at every sensible angle to remain credible and get the court on your side. While every case is unique and some defense approaches will be more appropriate than others, example defenses include:

  • Accusations were false or mistaken identity due to the defendant looking similar to the perpetrator’s profile.
  • Building was not broken into or entered (for burglary).
  • Force or intimidation was not used (for robbery).
  • Lack of intent to steal or commit a felony.
  • The defendant was retrieving their own property. 

Whatever the defense approach taken is, it should be applicable to the facts of the case. Sometimes it is possible to get all charges dropped, but other times prosecution has enough evidence to convict you of something, so the best approach is to push for a less severe conviction and lighter sentence.

Our lawyers at Tarlton | Polk can go through all the details with you candidly so you can understand why they recommend a certain approach over others and you can make a wise and informed decision. We have successfully represented clients in robbery and burglary cases and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used white collar criminal prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.

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