Entering a structure or a locked vehicle to commit an offense violates California burglary laws. Many people mistake this offense as light and inconsequential. However, a conviction could result in time behind bars and part with significant sums in fines. It is in your best interest to hire an attorney to help you fight off the charges. At Chula Vista Attorney, we understand burglary laws, have the experience and well-documented success in defending our clients. Get in touch with our team today if you or a loved one faces burglary charges for advice on your legal rights and options.
Overview of California Burglary Laws
Burglary is defined in various ways. However, all definitions include:
A structure or building
The lack of permission, and
The intention to commit an offense
PC 459 requires prosecutors to make their case by proving the following elements. Only then can you be found guilty of burglary.
You entered a locked vehicle, a building, or a room within a building
You did not have authority to enter the structure, building, or locked vehicle
You intended to commit an offense — That is, you meant to commit grand or petty theft or another crime
Additionally, one or more of the following issues must be true:
The value of the property you intended to steal or stole exceeded $950
You accessed a non-commercial structure
You entered a commercial establishment outside operational hours.
Note: Intent is pivotal in the case and is addressed in two ways.
First, you are guilty of burglary if you intend to commit grand or petty theft when entering a building. However, you do not have to successfully execute the offense to be found guilty under PC 459.
Second, the prosecution must prove that you intended to commit the theft or a felony before entering the building. If you formulated the intention after entering the building, you are not guilty of burglary.
Here are a few examples of actions that could result in you facing charges under PC 459.
Entering a convenience store and making away with some merchandise
Breaking and entering a locked vehicle intending to steal a laptop and a handbag left in the car
Entering a bank intending to commit check fraud
Entering an unlocked apartment to assault the occupant of the unit
Classification of Burglary
The DA can pursue first or second-degree burglary charges.
You commit first-degree burglary when you enter a residential structure to commit petty or grand theft. This offense is also referred to as residential burglary. Residence under PC 459 means:
An inhabited house or trailer coach
A room in an inhabited house — The definition of a house includes structures attached to the house. Further, the house should be functionally connected with the installations. A classic example is a garage attached to a house.
An inhabited floating home or boat
An inhabited motel room or hotel
An inhabited building or portion of a building other than those listed above
Inhabited in this case refers to the property being used as a dwelling by another. It does not matter whether the resident was on the property at the time of the incident.
If the resident moved out of the property and did not intend to return, the property or structure is not inhabited. However, if the resident vacates the property because of a natural or otherwise disaster, the property will be considered inhabited.
Second-degree burglary, also referred to as commercial burglary, occurs when you enter a business establishment to commit petty or grand theft. Prosecutors pursue this crime as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Note: Prosecutors can introduce second-degree burglary charges if you enter structures in the same environment as an inhabited house, for example, detached garages or sheds.
For example, John enters Peter’s garage attached to the main house, intending to steal Peter’s bike. The garage is connected to the main house through a door. In this case, John will face first-degree charges. However, if the garage were detached from the house and were a separate unit, John would face second-degree burglary charges because the garage is detached from the living quarters (the house).
Auto burglary falls under second-degree burglary. Prosecutors have to prove that you entered a locked car and intended to commit an offense when you gained entry into the vehicle.
Entering a locked vehicle requires you to alter a car's physical condition. Therefore, the following actions could result in auto burglary charges.
Using a screwdriver to pop a trunk open
Smashing a vehicle’s window to gain entry into the vehicle
Using an object to reach for an item inside the vehicle
Reaching inside a car through an open door or window without the owner’s authority
Commercial Burglary and Shoplifting
Commercial burglary differs from shoplifting.
PC 459.5 defines shoplifting as entering a commercial establishment during business hours to make away with property valued at $950 or less. On the other hand, commercial burglary only occurs when you enter the business premises outside operating hours.
Before 2014, you could face charges for commercial burglary if you were accused of shoplifting. Thus, a conviction resulted in misdemeanor or felony penalties. The severity of the crime changed when voters passed initiative Proposition 47. The new law reduced the penalties for certain minor offenses, including shoplifting. Thus, shoplifting became a misdemeanor violation.
However, not all shoplifting offenders face misdemeanor penalties. Prosecutors will pursue felony charges for shoplifting if you have a prior conviction for a serious offense, namely murder, rape, and sexual offenses against minors. Additionally, if you are a registered sex offender for a prior sex offense, you could face felony charges.
Under Proposition 47, individuals previously convicted on felony charges for shoplifting are eligible for resentencing. It is best to engage an attorney familiar with the provisions of Prop 47 for guidance.
Burglary and Breaking & Entering
Breaking and entering is a different offense from burglary.
Burglary does not require forced entry for you to be found guilty. Simply accessing a structure through an unlocked window or door is enough to be found guilty. Additionally, you can face burglary charges by entering an open business premises. Breaking and entering, on the other hand, requires a forced entry.
Note: Forced entry is only required in auto burglary for your conviction on burglary charges.
Entering a Building or Structure
Defining entering a structure or establishment in the context of PC 459 is necessary.
Entering under PC 459 refers to using a part of your body or an object under your control to access a building or structure. Access means penetrating a building’s outer boundary (areas only accessible from inside the building).
The following scenarios meet the above definition.
Removing a window screen to gain access and steal property inside the house.
Opening a cracked back door to assault the resident sexually
Reaching through a cracked window to grab a phone
Legal Consequences of a Burglary Conviction
PC 459 apportions varying penalties depending on whether you were convicted of a first or second-degree burglary offense.
First-degree burglary convictions result in felony penalties including two, four, or six years in prison and a fine of no more than $10,000. The judge could require you to serve formal probation terms instead of prison time.
Additionally, first-degree burglary is a strikeable offense. Your prison sentence doubles if the burglary is a second strike on your criminal record. If it is a third, you are likely to face 25-years-to-life in prison as per California’s Three Strikes law.
Second-degree burgling is a wobbler. The DA can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony violation.
If convicted for a misdemeanor violation, you could spend up to one year in jail and part with $1,000 in fines. You could serve summary probation terms instead of jail time. Felony violations, on the other hand, are punishable by 16 months, two, or three years in jail and a $10,000 fine requirement. Formal probation is also a possible alternative to jail time.
Fighting Burglary Charges
Defenses are case-specific. Your attorney will advise you on the best defense to convince the jury to find you not guilty. Alternatively, the defense strategy will help convince the judge to reduce the penalties if found guilty.
It is not uncommon for defendants to be misidentified. Misidentification occurs in various ways, including:
The malicious accusation from a witness — Witnesses do this in pursuit of revenge, to settle a perceived wrong, or to gain an advantage in child custody or a divorce proceeding.
Misleading forensic evidence — Forensic evidence has proven successful in the past. Its success meant many did not question the evidence, which opened the door for manipulation and inclusion of contaminated evidence. In some cases, evidence like DNA and hair analysis was erroneously introduced, with the police officers relying on the evidence’s accuracy not being questioned. However, past results do not guarantee future success, and each case should be analyzed on its merits.
Misrecollection — Witnesses do, in some cases, err in their recollection of the facts of the case. Significant time passing between when the incident occurred and the trial day, memory loss, or suffering a mental condition are some of the reasons that negatively impact a witnesses’ recollection.
Mistaken identity — You could look like the burglar and thus be mistakenly identified as a suspect. Similarly, your names could match those of the suspect. In other instances, the witness could be under pressure to identify a suspect and point to you as the burglar.
The Chula Vista Criminal Attorney team understands how easily misidentified defendants are convicted. We investigate the incident independently to determine the perpetrator and the circumstances leading up to the charge. Be sure we will use this defense if you are falsely accused.
Lack of Intent
Burglary requires intent to commit an offense before entering a structure or building. It is upon the DA to prove this intent beyond a reasonable doubt. If you formulated the intention after entering the structure or building, you are not guilty of burglary.
Some officers abuse their power to the disadvantage of a defendant. There are various forms of misconduct. An attorney will examine the misconduct specific to your case and present the necessary evidence for your defense. Abuse of power by officers includes but is not limited to:
Fabricating or planting evidence
Relying on the racial bias to identify and arrest you as a suspect
Committing perjury by giving false testimony under oath
Violating your Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from illegal police searches and seizures.
Abuse of power, if not addressed accordingly, could lead a defendant to be accused of a crime he/she did not commit. If you are a victim of police misconduct, your attorney will introduce evidence to challenge the DA’s case-based misconduct by the police officers.
Mistake of Fact
A mistake of fact as a defense is introduced when there is a reasonable explanation for why you were in the building. This defense is related to lack of intent because your reasons for accessing the building lack the intent to commit an offense.
For example, you could have entered the building to take your property back from the structure’s owner. Alternatively, you could have entered the building reasonably believing you had permission to take an item inside the property. These two scenarios lack an intent to commit theft or an offense.
Penalties Upon Conviction for Burglary
Convictions result in jail or prison time and fines. The jail or prison terms and fines depend on whether you were convicted on first or second-degree burglary charges.
First-degree burglary or residential burglary is a felony. The offense is punishable by formal probation or two, four, or six years in prison. Additionally, you could part with fines totaling $10,000.
Take note: First-degree burglary is a strikeable offense. Therefore, a conviction leads to a strike on your record as per California’s Three Strikes Law. You will only receive the above penalties if you are a first striker. If you had a prior strike on your record and a burglary conviction results in a second strike, you could receive double the penalties, that is, 4, 8, or 12 years in prison. Third strikers could receive 25 years-to-life prison sentences for the burglary offense.
Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. You can either face misdemeanor or felony charges.
Felony penalties are more severe. The offense is punishable by formal probation or 16 months, two, or three years in prison. Further, the judge could impose a $10,000 fine.
On the other hand, misdemeanor offenders receive a one-year jail sentence or summary probation instead of jail time. A judge could also impose a fine amounting to $1,000.
How a Burglary Conviction Will Affect Your Immigration Status or Gun Rights
Non-citizens risk deportation if convicted for a crime of moral turpitude or a crime of violence. Burglary as a first-time offense is not considered a deportable offense. However, should you be convicted for a second time, the conviction makes burglary a crime of violence. You will thus be deported and denied re-entry to the US.
As for gun rights, it is illegal for convicted felons to own or possess a gun. Thus a felony conviction under PC 459 will result in you losing the right to own or possess a firearm. Should you do so, you will potentially face prosecution for violating Penal Code 29800.
Possession of Burglary Tools
In some cases, prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to pursue burglary charges. They thus opt to pursue possession of burglary tools, a violation of PC 466. In other situations, an attorney could negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges. In these negotiations, possession of burglary tools could be a compromise offense, a PC 466 violation. The DA will expect you to plead guilty to a PC 466 violation in exchange for dropping burglary charges.
PC 466 requires the DA to prove that you possessed a burglary tool and did so intending to commit burglary.
Intention is challenging for prosecutors to prove. They rely on circumstantial evidence to make their case. The evidence provided is aimed at inferring your guilt. This means having burglary items on your person or in an environment you control is not enough for a conviction under PC 466 without intent.
PC 466 lists 15 items as burglary tools. They include picklocks, vice grip pliers, tension bars, key bits, slide hammers, crowbars, screwdrivers, and master keys. The law further acknowledges other tools or instruments can be used in a burglary. Therefore, items like knives or rocks fit this definition because burglars utilize them to pick a lock or smash a window, respectively.
Penalties for Possession of Burglary Tools
PC 466 violations are misdemeanors. Offenders receive a six-month-long jail sentence with a fine requirement totaling $1,000.
PC 466 is not a strikeable offense. Thus, you do not have to worry about additional penalties upon conviction. Further, possession of burglary tools does not affect your immigration status or gun rights.
Offenses Related to Burglary
Some offenses are related to burglary. Prosecutors could include these crimes in your charge sheet or could result in pursuing them if they believe they cannot secure a conviction for burglary.
Burglary of a Safe or Vault
It is a crime under Penal Code 464 to enter a building with the intent to commit a crime while inside, then use explosives or a torch to blow open a safe, vault, or secure facility inside the building.
It is immaterial, under PC 464, whether the building was inhabited or not. Additionally, it matters not whether it was a commercial or residential structure. Prosecutors only have to prove that you entered the establishment.
Further, like burglary, if you attempted to open the safe or vault without entering the building intending to do so, you are not guilty of a PC 464 violation.
PC 464 is a misdemeanor punishable by seven years in prison (as opposed to jail) and a fine not exceeding $10,000. A judge could issue summary probation terms to be served instead of prison time.
Penal Code 602 defines trespass as entering and remaining on another’s property without permission. According to PC 602, thirty offenses fit the above definition. Prosecutors need only to prove:
You entered another’s property
You intended to interfere with the owner’s rights to the property
You interfered with the owner’s rights by damaging the property or by interfering with his/her business operations.
You could face an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony trespass charges.
You commit an infraction if you willfully access another’s land absent his/her permission and that there was a “No Trespass” sign affixed around the property at intervals of three to a mile or more. Additionally, if there was no sign, but a fence enclosed the land, you will have committed an infraction.
Infractions are punishable by a $75 fine for a first offense and $250 for a second offense on the same land. A third offense becomes a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanors are punishable by summary probation or six months in jail. A judge could also impose a fine totaling $1,000.
Felony trespass offenders are those accused of:
Making credible threats to seriously harm another or cause the victim to fear for his/her family’s safety
Entering the victim’s property or workplace within 30 days of making the threat to carry out the threat.
A conviction will result in 16 months, 2, or 3 years in jail or serving formal probation terms.
Find an Experienced Chula Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Time in jail or prison is a grave consequence that will hurt your life. Additionally, a criminal record will also affect your financial and social life after you have served your sentence. It is best to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney. Their input helps fight the burglary charges to secure the best legal outcome. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we are ready to help. Contact us today at 619-877-6894 for a free consultation.