As the crime is defined by section 459 of the California Penal Code, burglary means entering one of a long list of designated places with the “intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony.” Common examples include entering a house to steal valuables or breaking into a jewelry store to steal diamonds.
The crime of California burglary is more complex than the common examples suggest. A burglary can be committed in locations other than homes and businesses. Penal Code 459 does not require breaking a lock or window to enter the premises. And while stealing is often the purpose of a burglary, entering a home to commit any felony violates 459 PC, even if the intended felony never occurs.
Given the breadth of conduct that can be considered a burglary, many people in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California are prosecuted every month for violating 459 PC. To help those who are accused of that crime understand the law, The Law Offices of Randy Collins provides this comprehensive guide to California burglary prosecutions under section 459 of the California Penal Code.
To obtain a conviction for a criminal charge of burglary in California, the prosecution must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt:
Each element of the crime has specific requirements that must be satisfied to obtain a conviction under 459 PC.
Place of entry
Section 459 PC has been in existence for a long time, which explains why “outhouse” is listed as a place that can be burglarized.
Any building can be burglarized, even if it is not listed in Penal Code 459. For example, entering a garage to steal a car is a burglary, even though garages are not listed in the statute.
A building is a place with walls and a roof. A partially erected shed that lacks a roof, or a gutted home with missing walls, cannot be burglarized. That does not mean that someone who enters a gutted home cannot be charged with theft after stealing something from the structure, but the person who commits the theft cannot also be charged with burglary.
Notably, a car or truck can only be burglarized if the doors are locked. Opening the unlocked door of a car and stealing its contents is not a burglary.
In addition, stealing something from a camper is a burglary only if the camper is inhabited. A camper is inhabited if it is being used as a dwelling, whether or not it is occupied when the burglary occurs.
An entry into one of the places identified above is a burglary only if the person who enters intends to steal something (including grand theft and petit larceny) or to commit a felony. It is not necessary that the theft or felony actually occur. For example, if someone enters a home with the intent to steal a television and is chased away by the homeowner, leaving the television behind, the entry with intent to steal is sufficient to establish a violation of 459 PC.
Entering with the intent to commit a misdemeanor (other than a misdemeanor theft) is not a burglary. For example, entering a home to commit minor property damage or simply for the purpose of looking around might result in a prosecution for misdemeanor vandalism or trespass, but those facts would not support a prosecution for violating 459 PC.
The intent must be formed before entering the property. If someone enters a jewelry store with no intent to commit a crime but impulsively steals a million-dollar diamond, that person has committed grand theft but not burglary.
Entering a business with the intent to commit a theft is a burglary if the entry takes place outside of regular business hours and the entry is made with the intent to steal property with a value of more than $950. A recent change to California law requires the crime to be charged as shoplifting if it occurs during regular business hours and the property stolen (or intended to be stolen) has a value of $950 or less.
First degree burglaries are punishable by imprisonment of up to six years. A first degree burglary occurs if the entry with intent to steal or commit a felony is made to an inhabited dwelling, even if the dwelling is not occupied when the entry occurs. A house, attached garage, apartment, hotel room, hospital room, mobile home, and tent are potential examples of inhabited dwellings.
All other burglaries are second degree burglaries. They are “wobblers” that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. If charged as a felony, the maximum sentence is three years in prison. If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in jail.
The defense to a burglary charge must be tailored to the evidence available to the prosecution. Sometimes the absence of evidence, including fingerprints or DNA samples, creates a reasonable doubt. If there is an eyewitness, expert testimony can be used to cast doubt on the reliability of the identification.
When the accused has a strong alibi, the prosecution may be unable to establish opportunity to commit the crime. When the accuser has a reason to make a false accusation, that motive can be used to establish reasonable doubt.
Whether the accused actually entered a specified place (or merely lurked nearby) and whether the accused entered with the intent to commit a crime are also questions that the prosecution might be unable to answer convincingly. Taking advantage of weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence is the key to constructing a winning defense to a 459 PC charge.
The Law Offices of Randy Collins always tailors a defense to the facts of the case. Representing burglary clients in Orange County, Riverside County, and all other Southern California courts, The Law Offices of Randy Collins can evaluate your case and advise you about the best approach to defending against an accusation that you violated section 459 of the Penal Code. To make an appointment with one of our burglary lawyers, call The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865.
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