Being accused of burglary in the state of California is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. If you are charged with burglary, penalties may include jail time, fines, and probation, not to mention a criminal record that can affect your life for years to come. It is important to know your rights and to consult with a California burglary attorney before pleading guilty to a burglary charge, as an experienced attorney may be able to help you reduce the severity of your charge or get it dismissed altogether in some cases.
What is Considered Burglary in California?
California Penal Code 459 defines burglary as the act of entering a structure with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony. While many people associate burglary with an act of forced entry into a building, home, or structure of any kind, one can be charged with burglary simply for entering a place with the intent of committing a crime even if the accused individual did not use force to enter the building.
Entering into premises such as a house, apartment, commercial building, warehouse, or shop with the purpose of committing a crime is considered burglary, but the penal code also includes other less common premises such as barns, outhouses, tents, shipping containers, railroad cars, inhabited camper and even aircraft under the same definition.
Is Burglary Classified as a Felony or a Misdemeanor in California?
Depending on the circumstances of the crime, burglary can be either a felony or a misdemeanor under California law. A defendant can be charged with first-degree burglary, which is a felony, or second-degree burglary, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony.
A first-degree burglary charge usually refers to a residential burglary and involves entering any inhabited structure suitable for dwelling, even if the structure is not currently occupied. The burglary of a residential building (e.g., house, apartment, an inhabited boat, trailer, motel, or hotel room) is considered a felony and those convicted of first-degree burglary will likely result in two to six years of prison time. If the homeowner was present at the time of the crime, a prosecutor may charge the defendant with a violent felony crime, which results in the requirement of serving 85% of your sentence if convicted.
Second-degree burglary is committed when the defendant enters any other non-residential premises to commit the crime. In this case, the accused individual can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor, as a second-degree burglary is considered a wobbler charge, meaning it can go either way depending on the circumstances of the crime. If charged with a felony, a defendant can be sentenced from 16 months to two years in the county jail. If the crime is considered a misdemeanor, a defendant will probably be looking at up to one year in jail.
What Are the Key Elements of a Burglary Charge?
To successfully charge a defendant with burglary, a prosecutor must prove two key elements – entry and intent. In other words, the prosecution must present evidence that the defendant entered the building or structure (even without breaking or using force) and that the defendant had the intent to commit a felony while inside the structure. This can include stealing as well as other felonies, such as robbery or battery.
Another key element that the prosecutor must prove is intent. For a burglary charge to be valid, the defendant must have entered the building with the intent to commit a crime. This is important because if the defendant did not intend to engage in criminal activity when first entering the premises, the prosecution will likely have to pursue alternative charges such as trespassing or theft.
For example, a person who walks into a retail store and then decides to steal an item will likely be charged with theft, but not burglary. However, if the defendant was carrying tools such as a crowbar, pliers, a blow torch, or other tools commonly used in a burglary, those can become evidence to show that the defendant intended to commit the crime.
What Type of Legal Defense Strategies Are There for Burglary in California?
While every case is different and results are not predictable, there are a few different arguments an attorney can include as part of a defense strategy in a burglary case. It is important to work with the right attorney who can put together a strong defense and reduce the severity of your charges, negotiate more favorable penalties or fight the prosecution and have your case dismissed and charges dropped.
The first strategy is based on actual innocence – an attorney can try to convince the court that the defendant did not commit the crime. This can be done by questioning the validity of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the manner through which it was obtained. By showing that the evidence cannot support a burglary accusation beyond a reasonable doubt, an attorney may be able to convince the jury that the defendant did not commit the crime.
Alternatively, the attorney can argue that there was no unauthorized breaking and entry and thus the defendant entered the building with consent from an owner. Last, an attorney may try to prove that someone else convinced the defendant to commit the crime and therefore the defendant was entrapped and did not commit the crime willfully. If you have been charged with burglary, speak with a California criminal defense lawyer to learn your options and to protect your rights.