Legal Columns

What’s the Difference Between Commercial and Residential Burglary?

In Arkansas, a person can be charged with residential or commercial burglary. Fundamentally, these two offenses are the same, but they also have some differences. The disparities lie not just within the place where the crime occurred, but also in the level of charge and punishments that can be levied for a conviction.

The Similarities Between Residential and Commercial Burglary

Before exploring the differences between residential and commercial burglary, let's first look at what they have in common.

Both crimes occur when someone:

  • Unlawfully enters or remains in a place,
  • With the intent to commit an offense therein

What Does It Mean to Unlawfully Enter or Remain in a Place?

A.C.A. § 5-39-101 defines "enter[ing] and remain[ing] unlawfully" as being in a place a person does not have the right or license to be. When it comes to residential and commercial burglary, the privilege to be somewhere differs slightly.

For residential, unlawful entry can happen at any time, night or day. If the owner has not given permission for a person to be on their property or in their house, or they've asked the individual to leave, they cannot be there. For instance, say John walked into James's house at 1:00 pm to commit a theft crime. James did not allow John inside his home, which means John is committing burglary.

When it comes to commercial burglary, a person is considered to have unlawfully entered or remained when they do so outside of business hours. Let's say that John's favorite store is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. He goes there at 1:00 pm with the intent to steal something. Because the store was open to the public at 1:00 pm, John is not committing commercial burglary because he is licensed and privileged to be there at that time. However, that does not mean John isn't committing a crime if he takes something during business hours; he may be accused of shoplifting.

Now, suppose John goes to that same store at 1:00 am to commit a theft. This is outside of the time the store is normally open. Thus, he can now be charged with commercial burglary.

What's a Residential Place, and What's a Commercial One?

As there can be a difference in the time in which residential or commercial burglary occurs, so too is there a difference in the place.

A person can be accused of residential burglary if they commit the offense in a "residential occupiable structure."

This includes a vehicle, building, or structure where a person:

  • Lives; or
  • Sleeps overnight

In contrast, a "commercial occupiable structure" is a vehicle, building, or structure used for:

  • Business,
  • Government,
  • Education,
  • Religion,
  • Entertainment, or
  • Public transportation

Thus, if John unlawfully enters James's house and steals something, he's committing residential burglary. If he does the same thing at a store, it's commercial burglary.

What Are the Penalties for Residential and Commercial Burglary?

As mentioned earlier, the criminal charges levied against someone accused of residential or commercial burglary differ. Residential burglary is a Class B felony. A conviction can result in between 5 and 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000.

Commercial burglary is a Class C felony, which is punishable by imprisonment between 3 and 10 years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.

If you've been accused of a property crime in Northwest Arkansas, contact Norwood & Norwood, P.A at (479) 235-4600. We'll build a strong defense and fight toward a favorable outcome on your behalf.

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