Many things have changed since I lived in the Penn State dorms in the early 1990s, but unfortunately, one thing that has not changed is the high number of dorm room burglaries on the Penn State campus. Dorm burglaries are common, because so many students carelessly leave their doors unlocked when they go to the study lounge or take a shower. The burglars are often other students, who lurk around, waiting for a time when both roommates are out of the room and have left the door unblocked. With dorm rooms being so small, it generally only takes a few seconds to locate and grab valuables.
Just this week, there was another Penn State dorm burglary. Penn State Police report that on the night of July 23, 2013, a laptop computer was stolen from an unlocked dorm room in Hartranft Hall. This same story could have been printed in a 1992 issue of “The Daily Collegian,” except a Comodore 64 computer or a television and VCR would have been stolen instead of a laptop.
What a lot of people, including campus burglars, do not realize, is that the penalties for burglarizing a dorm room are the same as the penalties for burglarizing a mansion in a gated community. The Pennsylvania Crimes Code protects the ramen noodles-eating dorm dweller and caviar-eating mansion dweller equally. A lot of people simply do not equate sneaking into an unlocked dorm room and stealing something as being in the same category as breaking into a single family home and making off with jewelry and electronics, yet these two crimes are identical in the eyes of the law.
Burglary of a residence is defined as entering a structure adapted for overnight accommodation, with the intent of committing a crime at the time of entry. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, residential burglary is a first degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in state prison and a $25,000 fine. A defendant convicted of residential burglary where the victim is present at the time of entry is usually looking at a state prison sentence of at least one or two years, even if he has no prior record. If no victim is present at the time of the residential burglary, a defendant with no prior record could either receive a county jail sentence or state prison sentence, but probation is generally out of the question unless the District Attorney’s Office sees some problems with the case.
If you are going to commit a crime as a student, burglary is not a good choice. It is not exactly in the same realm as underage drinking and smoking marijuana. Penn State students who are charged with any type of burglary, let alone an on-campus burglary, can expect very little sympathy from the Office of Student Conduct. For the safety of the Penn State community, a student charged with burglary can expect to be expelled, even if his attorney can work out a plea agreement with the Commonwealth for lesser charges, such as criminal trespass and theft by unlawful taking. The Office of Student Conduct works independently of the criminal justice system, and operates with a much lower burden of proof in Code of Student Conduct violation cases.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer and Penn State alumnus in State College, Pennsylvania. He limits his practice to criminal law. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Theft-and-Property-Crimes.shtml