Los Angeles Burglary Attorney
The crime of burglary in California, per CA Penal Code 459, is unique from other similarly associated offenses such as robbery and theft. Burglary has its own qualifications and penalties. In short, PC 459 involves an individual entering a structure with the intent to commit a crime. It is designated as a wobbler offense, which means the state may charge it as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s legal history. Having an experienced California burglary attorney is essential in order to obtain a strong defense against your charges.
Facing an allegation of burglary can threaten your personal and professional life if convicted. At Spolin Law P.C., we understand the consequences you’re facing and through our extensive experience and adept advocacy, we can fight to have the charges and penalties you are facing diminished, or eliminated if possible. If you or a loved one is facing burglary charges, call us today at (310) 424-5816, or fill out our contact form to arrange a free consultation with a Los Angeles theft attorney.
Defining Burglary in California
Under California law, Penal Code 459 defines burglary as entering a residential or commercial structure, such as a room or building, including a locked vehicle, with specific intent to commit a theft or other felony inside that structure. The mere entering of the structure with this criminal intent, regardless of whether or not the theft of felony was performed, defines the crime.
Entering the structure according to PC 459 involves some part of your body, or through possession of burglary tools, an object you control, breaching the area past the outer boundary of the structure. This area may include a balcony on a second or higher floor designed only to be accessed from the inside, or the area inside of a window screen.
In order for this crime to be committed, the following must be true:
- The building or structure entered by the defendant was a commercial establishment, and the breach was made before or after business hours
- The building or structure entered by the defendant was not a commercial establishment
- The value of property stolen or intended to be stolen from a business is greater than $950 (if valued at $950 or less, the crime is shoplifting)
It is important to note that if you formed intent to commit a theft or other crime once inside the structure, you have not committed the crime of burglary. Intent must be formed prior to entering the structure in order for burglary according to PC 459 to apply.
First Degree “Residential” Burglary
Always charged as a felony, first degree residential burglary, also referred to as residential burglary, occurs in an inhabited dwelling. In California, the types of inhabited residences may include:
- Room inside a house
- Trailer coach
- Motel or hotel room
- Floating home
- Any other inhabited portion of a building
The definition of inhabited refers to a structure that is currently used for dwelling purposes, regardless of whether or not it is occupied at the time of the burglary. If the former residents have moved out and have no intention of returning, the structure cannot be considered inhabited. The only exception is if they left due to some type of disaster.
The degree of punishment for this offense will hinge to a significant degree on whether or not the residents of the dwelling were present during the burglary. The penalties for first degree residential burglary include:
- Felony (formal) probation
- State prison sentence of two, four, or six years
- Maximum $10,000 in fines
Second Degree “Commercial” Burglary
Due to the fact that second degree burglary occurs in a non-inhabitable dwelling, it is often referred to as commercial burglary. The commercial structure can include a warehouse, department or retail store, or storage unit, to name a few. This crime is a wobbler – as such it may be charged as felony or misdemeanor depending on the prosecutor’s discretion.
In order for the charge of second degree burglary to apply, you must have taken or attempted to take items with a value greater than $950 – otherwise the charge of shoplifting applies. The exceptions that may allow the government to charge you with commercial burglary when the value of items taken or attempted to be taken is less than $950, include:
- You have committed a super strike offense
- You are a 290 registrant
- You committed the crime outside of normal business hours
The possible penalties imposed for second degree burglary include:
- Felony probation
- County jail sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years
- Maximum fine of $10,000
The crime of auto burglary occurs when you enter a locked vehicle with the intention to commit a theft or other type of felony. You must enter a locked vehicle for the crime to apply. Prosecutors have the option to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. The government may consider your previous criminal history when considering if felony charges are justified.
Possible Defenses to Burglary
A number of legal defenses may be used by an experienced California burglary attorney on your behalf to help you combat any Penal Code 459 charges you are facing. These include:
- Lack of Intent – Prosecutors must prove that you intended to commit a crime in a structure in order to obtain a burglary conviction according to PC 459. Without intent to commit a theft or felony upon entry, you cannot be convicted.
- Mistake of Fact – If you, through an honest mistake, took something you thought was permissible to take, or thought you had proper permission to take, you cannot be rightfully convicted of burglary.
- Having Consent – If the defendant owns the property or has right to the property that was taken, the consent defense may be viable.
- Factual innocence – Unfortunately, at times innocent people are accused of crimes. You may have a legitimate defense if you have a situation of mistaken identity, false accusation, or evidence is misleading.
- Police misconduct – If police misconduct occurs, your attorney may have a viable defense against your burglary charge. Some of the possible forms of police misconduct include asking leading questions of a witness, violation of Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search, coercion of a confession, and fabricating or planting evidence in the case.
Contact a California Burglary Lawyer Today
At Spolin Law P.C., we build your defense based on the facts of your case. We can present you with the best options to fight against the burglary allegation you are facing with the goal of reducing, or if possible, completely eliminating the charges and penalties you are up against.