Burglary is a criminal act involving unauthorized entry into a building or property with the intent to commit a crime, typically theft. This offense is often associated with breaking and entering. Breaking and entering is a separate crime involving unlawful intrusion into premises like homes, businesses, or other structures, intending to commit theft, vandalism, or another criminal act. As you will see below, both crimes are associated but remain distinct offenses. 

Burglary also involves cars. Auto burglary involves the unlawful entry into a locked vehicle with the intent to commit theft or another felony within the car. It is worth noting the difference between burglary of a structure and auto burglary, as the latter concerns explicitly unauthorized entry into vehicles. Legal consequences vary depending on the charges you are convicted of. The team at Monterey Criminal Attorney breaks down burglary as outlined under California law.

Understanding Burglary

In California, under Penal Code 459, burglary is defined as the unlawful entry into a building or structure intending to commit theft or another felony. There are key issues the prosecutors must prove to break down the definition further. Only then will a jury be inclined to convict you of burglary.

Prosecutors must prove:

  • You unlawfully entered the specified location.
  • At the time of your entry, you intended to commit either a theft or felony.

One or more of the following conditions are true:

  • The value of the property you stole or intended to steal was more than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).
  • The structure you entered was not a commercial establishment.
  • If the structure you entered was a commercial establishment, your entry occurred outside of business hours.

Upon entering a structure intending to commit theft or a felony, you become legally liable for burglary. Completing the intended crime is not a prerequisite for being deemed guilty in this context. The focus centers on your unauthorized entry and the criminal intent constituting the offense at the moment of entry.

You are only deemed guilty of burglary if you intend to commit theft or a felony at the precise moment of entering the building. However, if you had no such intent upon entry or formulated this intent only after entering the building, you would not be considered to have committed a burglary. The decisive factor lies in the timing of intent, specifically whether it was present at the point of entry.

Types of Burglaries

Under Penal Code 459, burglary is categorized into two main types:

  • First-degree burglary and
  • Second-degree burglary.
  1. First-Degree Burglary

First-degree burglary, or residential burglary, involves unlawfully entering an inhabited dwelling or residence with the intent to commit theft or a felony. This offense is considered more serious and typically incurs harsher penalties.

The term "inhabited" is crucial, indicating that a place is considered a residence if it is currently used for dwelling purposes, whether or not it is occupied at the time of the burglary. This definition includes houses, apartments, and other structures where people live.

PC 459 outlines the following as residences:

  • Warehouse.
  • Mill.
  • Room, which includes those in hotels or motels.
  • Tent.
  • House or a house car.
  • Apartment or tenement.
  • Barn, or stable.
  • Outhouse or other building.
  • Vessel.
  • Floating home.
  • Railroad car.
  • Sealed or locked cargo container, whether or not mounted on a car.
  • Trailer coach.
  • Inhabited camper.
  • Mine or any underground portion thereof.

Per Penal Code 459, a structure is not inhabited if those living there have moved out and do not intend to return. However, with one exception, their departure is solely due to a natural or other disaster. This provision distinguishes between genuinely abandoned structures and those temporarily unoccupied due to unforeseen circumstances. This prevents the unwarranted application of burglary charges when residents have permanently left the premises for reasons unrelated to criminal activity.

Moreover, beyond the previously outlined criteria, the definition of a "house" according to California Penal Code 459 extends to include all structures attached to it that are functionally connected, for example, garages.

What is the Definition of "Entering" a Structure?

According to Penal Code 459, "entering" a structure is the using any part of your body or an object under your control into the area within the building's "outer boundary."

In simpler terms, if any part of your body or something you control crosses the exterior limits of the building and accesses its interior, you are considered to have entered the structure under the law. This definition is crucial for determining the elements of burglary, where both the act of entry and the intent to commit a crime inside the structure are key components. Understanding these legal specifics is vital for anyone involved in legal matters related to burglary offenses in the state of California.

  1. Second-Degree Burglary

Second-degree or commercial burglary involves unlawful entry into structures that are not inhabited dwellings, for example, commercial establishments or businesses. Additionally, auto burglary is deemed a second-degree burglary offense.

The premises considered for second-degree burglary include the following:

  • Stores.
  • Malls.
  • Warehouses, and
  • All other buildings used for commercial purposes.

As mentioned, you will likely face second-degree burglary for entering a locked car intending to commit theft or a felony. This provision extends to aircraft.

Distinguishing Breaking and Entering From Burglary

In California, burglary, as outlined in Penal Code 459, does not hinge on the conventional idea of "breaking and entering." It encompasses scenarios where entry occurs through open or unlocked access points like windows, doors, or any accessible entryway, eliminating the need for forceful entry or overcoming barriers. Even entering an open business can qualify as burglary under this law.

The crucial element defining burglary is the presence of criminal intent at the time of entry into a structure. Whether someone walks through an unlocked door or enters an open business, the determining factor is their intention to engage in criminal activities, like theft or a felony, once inside. This distinguishes burglary from mere trespassing or unauthorized entry, emphasizing the essential role of criminal intent.

However, there is a notable exception when it comes to auto burglary. Unlike other structures, auto burglary requires that the vehicle be locked during the offense. You will only face auto burglary charges when you engage in "breaking into" the locked car. This involves overcoming its locked state to steal the vehicle itself or property inside it.

Burglary and Shoplifting: What is the Difference?

According to Penal Code 459.5, shoplifting is entering a commercial establishment intending to commit larceny while the establishment is open for regular business hours. The property taken or intended to be taken should not exceed $950.

In essence, shoplifting, as defined by Penal Code 459.5, involves three fundamental elements, namely:

  • The unauthorized entry into a commercial establishment.
  • This act occurs explicitly during the regular operational hours of the establishment.
  • The offender must possess the specific intent to steal property, with the added condition that the value of the stolen or intended items does not exceed $950.

Under Penal Code 459.5, shoplifting is generally treated as a misdemeanor offense. However, certain conditions can elevate the seriousness of the charges. They include the following:

  • If you have a prior conviction for serious crimes, including murder, rape, or sex crimes against children, the consequences of your shoplifting offense could become more severe.
  • Additionally, if you are required to register as a sex offender due to a previous sex offense conviction, the penalties for your shoplifting offense could be heightened.

In cases where your circumstances are as outlined above, the shoplifting charges could be raised to felony status. Felony shoplifting charges, like second-degree burglary charges, carry serious legal implications. They result in more significant penalties, including imprisonment.

Defenses You Can Use to Challenge Burglary Charges

A robust defense strategy, when skillfully executed, offers the opportunity to contest charges effectively and pursue a favorable outcome. This could involve seeking to dismiss the charges altogether or negotiating a reduction in their severity. At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we can use any of the following defenses as we aim to secure a favorable outcome:

  1. You Had No Intention to Commit a Felony or Theft

If it is proven that, upon entering the location, you harbored no intent to commit theft or a felony, this becomes a potent defense in a burglary case. The prosecution bears the burden of demonstrating not just the act of entering but also the intent to commit a crime within the premises. The timing of intent is pivotal in burglary cases. Establishing that the intent to commit a crime only surfaced after entering the building is a strong defense against burglary charges to avoid a guilty verdict.

For example, Alex steps into an abandoned building to explore or take photographs, devoid of any intention to commit theft or a felony. However, during his exploration, he stumbles upon a valuable item and decides to take it, unwittingly stepping into criminal territory.

In this instance, Alex had no criminal intent when he first accessed the building. The thought of theft or a felony materialized only after encountering the valuable item.

  1. You Were Mistakenly Identified as the Offender

Mistaken identification in burglary cases can arise from various factors. Some include:

  • Poor lighting conditions.
  • Similar physician appearances.
  • Brief glimpses.
  • Flawed lineup procedures.
  • The victim‘s recollection being affected by the high-stress situation and the need to identify a suspect, among others.

In the absence of supporting evidence like surveillance footage or tangible proof of your presence at the scene, challenging the case based on mistaken identity emerges as a viable strategy. Without concrete links connecting you to the burglary, our team will emphasize the potential fallibility of eyewitness accounts.

The absence of additional evidence offers an opportunity to scrutinize the validity of the identification process. We use this opportunity to highlight potential flaws in eyewitness recollections.

  1. Mistake of Fact

If you genuinely believed you had the right to take an item, your actions could be considered a "mistake of fact." This defense hinges on the notion that, due to your genuine and reasonable belief, you lacked the requisite criminal intent for theft or another offense.

In a theft case, for instance, if you believed the item was yours, a gift, or had permission to take it, your belief in permission becomes a mistake of fact. This defense challenges the prosecution's assertion of criminal intent, emphasizing that your actions stemmed from an honest misunderstanding.

Effectiveness depends on factors such as:

  • The reasonableness of your belief.
  • Available evidence supporting your perception and
  • The legal specifics of the case.

Seeking legal counsel is crucial to gauging the applicability and strength of a "mistake of fact" defense.

Here are examples that demonstrate this defense:

  • If you genuinely believed the item was yours and entered someone else's home to retrieve it — You could argue that your actions lacked criminal intent, revolving around the belief in rightful ownership.
  • Suppose you genuinely believed you had permission to take a specific item. In that case, your defense could underscore that your actions were rooted in a sincere belief in permission, challenging the prosecution's claim of criminal intent.
  1. You are a Victim of Police Misconduct

Law enforcement's zeal to solve cases could lead to actions that violate individuals' rights. This includes instances like:

  • Improperly introducing or creating evidence.
  • Posing leading questions during line-ups affecting witness identifications.
  • Violating Fourth Amendment rights through unwarranted searches and
  • Using coercive tactics to elicit confessions, potentially breaching Fifth Amendment rights.

To counter these infringements, you can invoke police misconduct as a defense strategy. This involves challenging law enforcement actions on multiple fronts, such as:

  • Questioning the legality of searches and seizures.
  • Assessing the reasonableness of the use of force.
  • Highlighting violations of due process and
  • Invoking qualified immunity.

When using this defense, attorneys often rely on the Pitchess motion. The Pitchess motion, from the Pitchess v. Superior Court case, empowers the defense to delve into an officer's personnel records. Attorneys aim to acquire records documenting past complaints and disciplinary actions. This access reveals crucial insights into the officer's history, pivotal in challenging credibility and bias.

The Pitchess motion establishes a pattern of improper conduct. It is beneficial when you contend that an overly zealous pursuit of solving a case resulted in constitutional violations. Instances of past misconduct or disciplinary actions serve as building blocks to showcase that alleged violations are not isolated but part of an ongoing issue.

Furthermore, the Pitchess motion helps substantiate claims of coercion or evidence fabrication. Defense attorneys construct a compelling narrative around a troubling pattern by uncovering past instances mirroring the present allegations. These personnel records also illuminate lapses in proper training or supervision, providing grounds for the defense to argue that the law enforcement agency failed to address persistent issues.

  1. You Were Falsely Accused

False accusations can have various motives, including:

  • A personal vendetta where the accuser harbors animosity or grudges against the accused.
  • In instances where the accuser was involved in the burglary, he/she could falsely accuse you to divert suspicion and cover up their involvement.
  • Seeking attention or sympathy by using untruths to garner support.
  • Mental health issues that contribute to distorted perceptions, leading to baseless accusations.
  • External pressures, like coercion or threats, can prompt individuals to falsely accuse someone as a protective measure.

In legal proceedings, asserting that you were falsely accused becomes a crucial defense strategy. It involves challenging the credibility and reliability of the accusations, questioning the accuser's motives, and highlighting inconsistencies or the absence of corroborating evidence.

Building a defense around false accusations requires a thorough examination of the circumstances and collaboration with legal professionals to navigate the complexities of the legal process.

Penalties for Burglary

Burglary penalties vary depending on the degree of burglary you are charged with.

  1. First-Degree Burglary

First-degree violations are felonies. If you are convicted of first-degree charges, you will face the following penalties:

  • 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both.
  • Felony or formal probation instead of imprisonment.

Committing a first-degree burglary falls under a "strikeable" offense as outlined by the state's Three Strikes Law. This law imposes heightened penalties for individuals found guilty of specific serious or violent crimes.

A "strike" is a prior conviction for an offense that qualifies under this law, and accumulating multiple strikes triggers more severe sentencing consequences.

Under the Three Strikes Law, a conviction for a violent or serious felony as the initial strike can increase penalties for subsequent convictions. A second strike leads to doubled penalties, in this instance, 4, 8, or 12 years of imprisonment, and a third strike mandates a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

  1. Second-Degree Burglary

Second-degree burglary is a wobbler offense. You can either face misdemeanor or felony penalties upon conviction based on the charges the prosecutors pursue.

Misdemeanor convictions result in the following penalties:

  • Up to one year in jail.
  • A maximum fine of $1,000 or both.
  • Misdemeanor or summary probation instead of imprisonment.

Felony convictions result in the following penalties:

  • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in jail.
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both.
  • Felony or formal probation instead of imprisonment.

Impact on Gun Rights

PC 29800 bars individuals from having firearms if they meet specific criteria, including felony convictions, certain misdemeanors, restraining orders, or addiction to narcotics. Those in these categories ought to surrender their firearms to law enforcement or sell them through licensed dealers.

A felony burglary conviction triggers this firearm prohibition. Consequently, individuals with these convictions face restrictions on exercising their Second Amendment rights, aligning with broader legal measures designed to enhance public safety by limiting firearm access for those with particular criminal histories.

Related Offenses

Prosecutors can pursue additional charges or seek alternative convictions for burglary-related crimes. The typical crime is possession of burglary tools.

  1. Possession of Burglary Tools

You can also have possession of burglary tools charges added to your charge sheet.

Penal Code 466 makes it a misdemeanor crime to possess specific tools with the intent to use them for breaking or entering into structures like buildings, vehicles, vessels, or others. The prohibited tools include:

  • Picklocks.
  • Crowbars.
  • Key bits.
  • Screwdrivers.
  • Masterkeys.
  • Vise grip pliers.
  • Slim jims and more.

The essence of the offense lies in possessing these tools with the intent to commit a misdemeanor or felony. It's crucial to understand that this violation is categorized as a misdemeanor under the statute.

To secure a conviction in a Penal Code 466 case, prosecutors must convincingly demonstrate the following elements:

  • You had tools outlined explicitly in the statute.
  • Your possession of these tools was with the clear intent to use them for breaking into or entering structures, including buildings, vessels, vehicles, or other designated locations.
  • It must be established that you knew or reasonably believed that the tools were intended for use in committing a misdemeanor or felony.

Possession of burglary tools is a misdemeanor. Convictions result in the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence of up to six months (as opposed to state prison).
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Burglary charges have serious implications regarding the immediate penalties upon conviction and the enduring impact on your life post-sentence. The consequences go beyond the legal space. They can affect your personal and professional life, from employment prospects to housing opportunities. The stigma attached to a burglary conviction can have lasting repercussions.

Given these complexities, it is prudent to enlist the assistance of an attorney to challenge the charges effectively. A proficient attorney can meticulously assess the details of your case, explore potential defenses, and strategically work to mitigate the consequences associated with burglary charges. Their expertise becomes invaluable in navigating the intricate legal landscape.

At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we advocate for your rights and strive for the most favorable outcome. Call us at 831- 574-1791 for an initial case assessment. Our review will enable you to make well-informed decisions about your next action. Call us and tap into the expertise of seasoned legal professionals who can provide tailored guidance based on the specific intricacies of your situation.