Law School Case Brief
Commonwealth v. Burke - 392 Mass. 688, 467 N.E.2d 846 (1984)
At common law, the general rule regarding the crime of breaking and entering was that any intrusion into a protected enclosure by any part of a defendant's body was enough to satisfy the legal requirement of entry.
After hearing the sound of breaking glass in the early hours of the morning, a 13 year old girl awakened her mother and they proceeded to investigate. Upon seeing a figure walk by a window, the daughter screamed. Defendant William J. Burke then knocked on the front door, and, after identifying himself, falsely stated that a neighbor had called his father (a police officer) regarding some suspicious activity in the neighborhood and that his father had asked him to check the premises. Burke's hand was bleeding. The outer storm window of the neighbor's home had been shattered, and the wooden sash of the inner window had pry marks from a crowbar or similar instrument. After a jury trial in Massachusetts district court, Burke was convicted of breaking and entering a building in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony, a common law crime now codified by statute at G. L. c. 266, § 16. 1. On appeal, the appeals court overturned the district court's verdict on the ground that there was no showing made of an "entry" into the house, within the meaning of G. L. c. 266, § 16. 17 Mass. App. Ct. 917 (1983). The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted the Commonwealth's application for further appellate review.
Was there an "entry" into the house that would permit Burke's conviction of breaking and entering a building in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony, pursuant to G. L. c. 266, § 16?
The court affirmed the district court's judgment convicting Burke of the crime charged. The court held that breaking the storm window and placing a hand inside constituted entry within the meaning of G. L. c. 266, § 16. According to the court, outer window coverings should be treated as part of the dwelling itself, and any entry beyond them, no matter if further impeded by additional window coverings, should be punished. The court further averred that any intrusion intro a protected enclosure by any part of Burke's body was enough to satisfy the legal requirement of entry. Moreover, there was circumstantial evidence from which the jury could have found that Burke's hand or arm did enter the space between the two windows.
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