Burglary is a severely punished offense in California. You commit burglary if you enter another person’s home, business premises, or locked vehicle intending to commit theft or any other felony offense. You would still face burglary charges even if you did not force your entry into the said structure or vehicle. The offense is punished according to the facts of the case. Generally, a conviction for burglary attracts a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines. But you could avoid the severe consequences of a conviction if you partner with a competent criminal attorney.
If you face burglary charges, an experienced criminal attorney could help obtain a fair outcome of your case. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we can make your legal process smooth and plan a solid defense against your charges. In addition, our aggressive criminal attorneys could compel the judge to reduce or drop your charges.
Legal Definition of Burglary in California
California burglary laws under PC 459 provide elements of the offense that prosecutors and judges use to define the offense. The district attorney must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty of your charges. These elements are:
- You entered a building, a room in a particular building, a structure or locked vehicle
- You did so intending to commit California theft or any other felony offense
- The worth of the items you planned to steal is greater than $950, or the building or structure you entered is not a business premise, or the building was a business premise, but you entered it after the close of business.
Remember that you are considered guilty under this statute immediately after entering a building or structure planning to engage in crime while in there. However, the law does not require you to have succeeded in committing the theft or felony.
Example: Sammy has been using drugs for a while. He even lost his job due to absenteeism and poor performance. Since losing his job, Sammy has been borrowing money from family and friends to keep buying drugs. The other day, he did not have any money for drugs. So, he decided to break into his neighbor’s apartment to steal a computer gadget that he could sell to obtain some money for drugs. Unfortunately, someone was home already, and she called the police before Sammy could accomplish his mission.
Sammy is guilty of California burglary even if he failed in stealing the computer gadget.
But, if you did not intend to commit theft or any other felony offense while in the building or structure, you are not guilty of burglary.
Example: Sarah has been homeless since she lost her job. She has been sleeping in her car. She misses the feel of a home, more so the comfort of a bed. Maria lives in the same neighborhood as Sarah. She works night shifts most of the time. Sarah has been monitoring Maria’s schedule closely and was convinced that no one would be at her home the night she decided to break in, just to look around.
In this case, Sarah is not guilty of burglary since she did not intend to commit theft or any other felony offense while at Maria’s house.
California burglary is either first-degree or second-degree, based on the details of your case. The offense becomes first-degree if the building or structure you enter intending to commit theft or a felony offense is a residential building. Burglary of any other building or structure other than residential is second-degree. Therefore, entering a business premises intending to commit grand theft or destruction of property will be prosecuted as second-degree burglary.
As used in this statute, a residence could be any occupied building or structure, including a house, boat, floating home, trailer coach, motel or hotel room, and any room within an occupied building. A structure is occupied if someone uses it as their dwelling. It does not necessarily mean that someone must be there when the offense happens. But if the owners vacated the structure and did not intend to come back, it no longer becomes an occupied building or structure.
Burglary and Shoplifting
The law against shoplifting is under California PC 459.5. The offense is defined through the following elements:
- You entered a commercial building
- You did so intending to steal property valued at not more than $950
These elements make shoplifting quite similar to burglary. PC 459.5 is a subset of PC 459. But shoplifting is only limited to entering an open business and committing petty theft. It is generally a misdemeanor unless in cases where the offender has a prior conviction of a serious crime like murder or rape or is needed to register their name in the sex offender registry due to a previous sex offense. In any of those two cases, you could face felony charges for shoplifting.
If you face burglary charges, your attorney can strike a deal with the prosecutor to reduce your charges to shoplifting. That would reduce the severe penalties you would face after a conviction for burglary.
Penalties for a California Burglary Conviction
The penalties you will likely receive after a conviction under this statute will depend on the nature of your offense. It could be a first-degree or second-degree conviction for burglary.
First-degree or residential burglary is the most severe of the two. It is generally a felony offense, punishable by:
- Felony probation
- Two, four, or six years of imprisonment
- A maximum fine of $10,000
Additionally, residential burglary is a strike under the California three-strike law. Therefore, you will likely receive 25 years to life in prison if you have three prior strikes in your criminal record.
Second-degree or commercial burglary attracts a much lighter sentence than residential burglary. It is a wobbler offense in California, which means that the prosecutor can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor’s decision is based on the facts of your case and your criminal history.
A felony commercial burglary conviction will likely attract the following penalties:
- Felony or formal probation
- Sixteen months, two or three years in jail
- A maximum fine of $10,000
But if you receive a misdemeanor conviction for commercial burglary, you will likely receive the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor probation
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A maximum fine of $10,000
How To Fight California Burglary Charges
Criminal penalties after a conviction for burglary can be severe. In addition, you will face other consequences, especially those that come with having a criminal record. For instance, it could be a challenge to find suitable employment with a criminal record. Your social life could also be strained since other people might have difficulties trusting you. That is why you must fight your charges in court. Several defense strategies are available that an experienced criminal attorney can use to obtain a fair outcome of your case. Some of these are:
Lack of Intent
California burglary law requires you to have entered another person’s home, business premises, or vehicle intending to commit theft or any other felony. Without intent, you will not be guilty of this offense.
It becomes an excellent challenge for prosecutors to prove intent in cases like these. That is why this could be the best defense to use to have your charges dropped or reduced.
You could have entered a person’s home, business, or vehicle out of curiosity, or at least not to commit a crime. In that case, the court could reduce your charges to a less severe offense like trespassing.
The timing of intent is essential too. You would be guilty of burglary if you had the intent to commit theft or a felony before entering the said structure. But if you came up with the plan to steal after entering the structure, you could not be guilty under this statute.
Example: Joe’s family visits his aunt in another part of town. It is the same place Joe’s high school friend, Kim, lives. On the afternoon of their second day in their aunt’s place, Joe surprises Kim at her home. Sadly, no one is home, but the back door is not locked. Out of curiosity, Joe enters Kim’s house. But while inside, he realizes someone left their wallet on the table. The wallet has a lot of money, and Joe helps himself to some hundreds.
Joe is not guilty under this statute even if he entered Kim’s home and stole some money. He did not plan to steal money when he entered the house.
Your attorney can use this strategy to defend you against your charges if you entered another person’s house, business, or vehicle to take an item or money you believed was yours. You cannot face burglary charges for taking what belongs to you or entering a structure you think you already have permission to access.
It could be that you entered your best friend’s home to take a jacket he/she had borrowed from you or had given you. In that case, you can argue that your intentions were innocent. Maybe you had even tried calling your friend with no success, but since you were already there, you decided to take the jacket anyway.
Or, it could be that you were only retrieving your boss’ laptop from his vehicle, assuming that he/she had forgotten it there. If you are your boss’ immediate assistance, that could have been expected of you. You thought that your boss needed the laptop in the office and was only doing him/her a favor without intending to steal.
If caught in any of these acts, your burglary charges could not hold.
It is not unusual to face criminal charges for an offense you did not commit. If you are innocent, your attorney can use different strategies to prove it to the jury.
For example, it could be a case of mistaken identity, whereby someone else committed the said offense. In that case, your attorney will prove your innocence by demonstrating to the court that there is no way you could have committed the said offense. For instance, your attorney can prove that you were far from the scene of the crime.
It could also be a case of misleading evidence, whereby you are arrested because you were caught by surveillance cameras close to the crime scene. In this case, the prosecutor will not prove all elements of the offense to sustain your charges. Your attorney can take advantage of that to have the court drop your charges.
You could also face false charges, whereby another person falsely accuses you of burglary for reasons like a desire for revenge or jealousy. A competent criminal attorney will know how common cases like these are and how to argue your case to convince the court of your innocence. For instance, your attorney can question the kind of relationship you have with your accuser to prove the accuser’s ability to frame you for an offense that did not even happen.
Police misconduct is a very common defense strategy that could cause the court to dismiss all evidence and your charges. The police are guided by law in how they conduct arrests and investigations. For instance, the police require a warrant to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. If your arrest occurred without a warrant, you could cite police misconduct to have the court term the arrest illegal.
It could also be that the arresting officer did not read your Miranda rights after an arrest. Or you were not allowed to contact an attorney before questioning.
If the police did not conduct themselves as required by law, a competent attorney would know how to take advantage of that to have your charges dropped.
Find a Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you face burglary charges, contact an experienced criminal attorney for guidance and help with defense. A competent attorney will study the details of your case to determine points in which he/she can weaken the prosecutor’s case against you. The Long Beach Criminal Attorney team has the skills and experience you need for a solid defense against your charges. Call us at 562-308-7807, and let us help you obtain a fair outcome of your situation.