What Is the Difference Between First and Second Degree Burglary?

As of 2014 in California, first-degree burglary occurs at residences and second-degree burglary happens at commercial establishments where people do not live, according to Shouse California Law Group. Penalties for first-degree burglary are more than those of second-degree burglary, although laws change depending on state statutes, notes FindLaw.

First-degree burglary carries a penalty of up to six years in prison in California, whereas second-degree burglary can be up to three years in prison depending on the circumstances of the crime. Second-degree burglary can be a felony or misdemeanor, based on a person's criminal record or past history, notes Shouse. Misdemeanor second-degree burglary has a one-year jail sentence.

First-degree burglary is also known as residential burglary, and second-degree burglary is also known as commercial burglary in California. Penalties are stiffer for residential burglary because there is a greater chance of harming someone living in the residence. The structure of a residence may be a house, apartment, mobile home, house boat or anywhere someone may live, according to the Law Offices of Seppi Esfandi.

As of 2014, other states have more than two degrees of burglary charges within their criminal codes. New York has an additional charge of third-degree burglary, notes FindLaw.

Maryland's penal code contains four degrees of burglary charges, and fourth-degree burglary is the only one listed as a misdemeanor, according to The Law Office of Raymond F. Anthracite. First-degree burglary in Maryland has a maximum 20-year prison sentence, as of 2014.