California Burglary Charges

The most common burglary charges involve breaking into a home or building with the intent to steal something. In California, however, a much wider range of conduct can be charged as a burglary.

An average of 10,000 burglaries are reported every year in Orange County. About 17,000 burglaries are reported each year in Riverside County. In Los Angeles County, the average is about 48,000, while more than 13,000 burglaries are reported during an average year in San Diego County.

Burglary defense attorney Randy Collins knows that most people accused of burglary do not deserve the harsh penalties that prosecutors seek. To learn how those penalties might be avoided or minimized in your case, call The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865. We represent individuals accused of burglary in numerous Southern California courts.

California Burglary Charges

Gloved person burglarizing home in Orange County, CaliforniaSection 459 of the California Penal Code requires the prosecution to prove two things to obtain a burglary conviction. First, the prosecution must prove that the accused entered a place that is listed in section 459 PC, including

  • a building (including homes, stores, mobile homes, warehouses, and other buildings),
  • a room within a building (including apartments),
  • a structure (anything with four sides and a roof), or
  • a locked vehicle.

Other places that can be burglarized, although less commonly charged, include vessels, aircraft, railroad cars, and tents.

Second, the prosecution must prove that the accused intended to commit a theft or a felony within the place that the accused entered.

That definition is broader than the crime that most people think of as a burglary. Common misconceptions about the law involve the nature and purpose of a burglary.


The entry into property that triggers a California burglary prosecution does not require “breaking and entering.” A burglar does not need to pick a lock, pry open a window, or kick down a door. The crime only requires some part of the accused’s body to penetrate the outer boundary of the building or room.

With the exception of vehicles, it does not matter whether the place that is entered is locked or unlocked. A vehicle can usually be burglarized only if it is locked, although entering an occupied camper to commit a theft or felony is a burglary even if the camper is unlocked.


While people think of burglars as entering a home and making off with jewels and electronics, burglary can be charged even if the accused does not steal anything after entering the building. Entering with the intent to steal is enough, whether or not the theft is completed.

In addition, while the intended crime is usually theft, entering a building with the intent to commit any felony is a burglary. For example, entering a room with the intent to rape or kill its occupant can be charged as a burglary, even if the intended crime is never committed.

Entering a building with the intent to commit a misdemeanor other than theft (such as vandalism) or with no intent to commit a crime might be a criminal trespass, but those facts do not justify a burglary charge.

California Burglary Penalties

Burglary convict holding onto Riverside jail cell barsCalifornia burglaries are categorized as either first or second degree burglaries. First degree burglaries involve entry into an inhabited house, apartment, room, mobile home, or other dwelling.

A dwelling is inhabited if it is used as a dwelling, whether or not it is occupied at the time the burglary occurs. Hotel rooms, hospital rooms, attached garages, and tents have all been held to be inhabited dwellings.

All other California burglaries are second degree burglaries.

First degree burglaries are felonies. The maximum prison sentence for first degree burglary is six years. Sentences can be enhanced, however, if the victim is injured during the crime, if the victim is vulnerable, if explosives or a torch were used in the crime, or if the accused has a criminal record.

Second degree burglaries are “wobblers.” The prosecutor can charge a second degree burglary as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Most second degree felonies are charged as felonies. The maximum penalty for a felony second degree burglary in three years in prison. The maximum for a misdemeanor burglary is one year in jail.

Shoplifting Exception

An exception to the definition of second degree burglary exists when the accused is charged with entering a business (usually a store) during regular business hours with the intent to steal merchandise that has a value of $950 or less. California law requires those crimes to be charged as misdemeanor shoplifting, not as second degree burglary.

Burglary Defenses

The defense that is best suited to a burglary charge depends upon the evidence available to the prosecution, the facts uncovered by a defense investigation, and the quality of the police investigation. Potential defenses include:

  • Mistaken identity – another person committed the crime.
  • False accusation – the burglary was faked and evidence planted to cause trouble for the accused.
  • Innocent explanation – the accused’s fingerprints were present at the crime scene for reasons unrelated to the crime.
  • Lack of intent – the accused entered the building for a reason that did not involve stealing or committing a felony.
  • No entry – an attempted entry can be charged as an attempted burglary, but no actual burglary occurs unless some part of the accused’s body, or something that the accused is holding, passes beyond the property’s outer boundary.
  • Crime scene incapable of being burglarized – a building under construction that has no roof, for example, is not a “structure” that can be burglarized.

Other defenses, such as an illegal search and the failure to administer Miranda warnings, can also be asserted in appropriate cases. The best defense is the one that explains innocence, creates reasonable doubt, or causes the evidence to be thrown out. That defense depends upon a careful investigation of the facts and a thorough analysis of the law.

Burglary Defense Assistance

The Law Offices of Randy Collins will investigate the facts of your case and advise you of all available defenses to your Southern California burglary charges. To obtain an evaluation of your arrest or charge, call The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865. 

Free Consultation

Charged With A Crime?

Being arrested can be overwhelming. Choose from the following options for help or call (888) 250-2865 for assistance from attorney Randy Collins.