Understanding California Burglary Law
The crime of burglary is charged under California State Penal Code 459. The crime entails the act of breaking into a private building or home without the permission of the owner. The kind of building is irrelevant. It could be a house, a store, a warehouse – it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the perpetrator must have the intent of committing a felonious act, such as the intention to steal something or assault someone in the building.
Notably, the offender does not actually have to carry out the felonious act to be guilty. For example, if a person breaks into an auto shop with the intention of stealing catalytic converters but can’t figure out how to remove them the cars, they are still culpable even if they leave with nothing.
First-Degree vs. Second-Degree Burglary
There are two kinds of burglary charges in California: first-degree and second-degree.
A person is charged with first-degree burglary when they burglarize a “dwelling,” which may be a house, room, shop, warehouse, tent, railroad car, cargo container, camper, or other location. First-degree burglary is always a felony.
A conviction for first-degree burglary can result in a prison sentence of 2, 4, or 6 years.
Second-degree burglary includes “all other kinds of burglary” that cannot be considered first-degree burglary. Generally, this may involve more commercial properties rather than domestic.
Second-degree burglary is considered a “wobbler offense” and may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history.
The penalties for misdemeanor second-degree burglary include a 1-year maximum prison sentence and a fine of up to $1,000.
The penalties for felony second-degree burglary include a maximum prison sentence of 3 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
In some cases, shoplifting may be charged as second-degree burglary if the defendant had the intent to steal upon entering the store.
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How Does Burglary Differ from Theft and Robbery?
People often use the terms burglary, theft, and robbery interchangeably. However, these are each distinct crimes under California law.
How burglary differs from theft
To be convicted of theft in California, the offender must have the specific intent of taking or withholding the property of another. Theft may involve personal property, money, real property, or the value of a person’s labor.
Theft does not require person-to-person interaction. In fact, it can occur without the owner’s knowledge entirely. The defendant does not need to take the property by using force or threats. In fact, the property doesn’t even need to be in the owner’s possession to begin with. For example, the owner could agree to lend the offender property for a period of time, and the offender could simply decide to keep it and claim it as his own.
Theft differs from burglary in that the offender does not have to break into a building. For theft, the property can be out in the open or even in the possession of the perpetrator in a loan arrangement.
How burglary differs from robbery
Robbery is charged under California Penal Code 211. The crime involves five elements:
- The defendant took property that did not belong to them.
- The property was taken from the victim or their immediate presence.
- The property was taken against the victim’s will.
- The defendant used fear or force in taking the property.
- The victim was deprived of the value or enjoyment of the property.
One of the starkest contrasts between robbery and burglary is the actual taking of property. Remember, burglary does not require the actual taking of property, only the intent to commit a felonious act. Robbery requires the taking of a person’s property.
Furthermore, robbery requires the use of force or fear, while burglary requires no human-to-human contact.
Common Burglary Defenses
There are many potential defenses to a burglary charge. As we evaluate your case, we will identify the best options for you. Some of the common arguments that could apply include:
- You did not have felonious intent.
- You did not actually enter the building.
- You were given permission by the owner to enter the building.
- You were a victim of mistaken identity.
- You were returning property to the building.
- Law enforcement made mistakes that violated policies or procedures.