Thin Ice – Burglars of Ice Fishing Shacks Caught After Falling Through Ice

Some Wisconsin men made the very bad decision to break into and steal from numerous ice fishing shacks on the frozen Upper St. Croix Lake. Of course, when you are stealing heavy things like a television and an auger, you need to park your getaway vehicle close by to limit the physical strain. The problem is that the ice was able to support the shack and its contents and it was able to support the car, but the ice could not support both the car and the stolen goods. As the thieves attempted to make their escape in the 2014 Ford Focus, the ice  gave way, and the vehicle sunk into the icy waters.

The men were able to avoid any injuries, but after they flagged down a fisherman for help, the man called the local police. When the police arrived, the burglars initially denied any involvement in the thefts and claimed that they were just joyriding on the ice. However, the men ultimately came clean and admitted to the thefts.

Pennsylvania Burglary Charges

Many people mistakenly believe that a burglary charge requires that people break into a house and steal things. The burglary law in Pennsylvania is actually broader and requires some form of trespass into a building with the intent to commit another crime. So the charge does require an unauthorized entry, but it could be an entry into a house, garage, or even a non-residential building. A burglary charge also does not require a theft. As a State College criminal defense attorney, I routinely see cases involving Penn State or Lock Haven students that are drunk and enter without consent into someone else’s apartment to verbally harass or even physically assault a resident. These students are often charged with burglary by the local police, and the cases are aggressively prosecuted by the Centre County District Attorney’s Office. The students face hefty fines, possible jail time, and are likely to be suspended or expelled from Penn State.

In Pennsylvania, all burglary offenses are graded as felonies, but some burglary charges are more severe than others. Following the idea that “a man’s home is his castle,” the law punishes incidents involving an illegal entry into an area “adapted for overnight accommodations,” which basically means an area where people could sleep, more severely. Also, if people are present in the area in which the trespass occurs, the punishment is increased. The least severe charge of Burglary is still a second degree felony and involves an illegal entry into an area that does not have overnight accommodations and no person was present. In the case of our fish shack burglars, they had best hope that the shacks didn’t contain a cot or sleeping bag in the corner or they could be considered to have overnight accommodations and thereby subject them to more severe penalties. It is somewhat odd to think that the severity of a person’s criminal sentence could depend upon whether the shack contained a $30.00 cot.