Facing criminal charges for burglary under Penal Code PC 459 can be a daunting and overwhelming experience, particularly if you are not familiar with the legal process. Get in touch now to schedule a consultation and discuss the best legal strategy and tactics for your case.
Prosecutors and criminal courts in California take burglary charges extremely seriously. The serious nature of the burglary PC 459 charges is understandable given that the crime involves allegations that the defendant breached someone’s sense of safety by unlawfully entering a building or structure.
At The Law Office of Cherish Om, I understand what a burglary conviction means for those who are found guilty. As a criminal defense lawyer, I work diligently to investigate the circumstances surrounding the charges and mount an aggressive defense to keep you out of jail or prison.
If you are facing burglary charges, I will look carefully at your case to formulate a strong and compelling defense and put that defense into effect in court. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about burglary charges in California, including possible legal defenses, potential penalties, and how a top criminal defense attorney can help.
Burglary PC 459: What Is Burglary in California?
Penal Code PC 459 defines burglary as the act of entering a building, structure, or a locked vehicle with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony offense. In California, burglary charges are divided into first and second degrees depending on whether the structure is residential or commercial.
The prosecution must prove the following three elements to secure a conviction for burglary:
- Entering. The defendant entered a building, structure, or a locked vehicle (forced entry is not required);
- Intent. The defendant had the intent to steal something (grand or petit larceny) or commit a felony offense at the time of entering the building, structure, or vehicle; and
- Facts. Any of the statements following is true: (a) the property that the defendant stole or intended to steal was valued at more than $950, (b) the structure is not a commercial establishment, or (c) the defendant entered a commercial establishment outside of business hours.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not actually need to steal anything or commit any felony offense to be found guilty of burglary. The mere existence of intent to commit a theft or felony at the time of entering the building or structure is sufficient to be charged with the crime. In other words, you can be convicted of this crime under California burglary law even if you did not succeed in committing the theft or felony burglary.
Examples of Burglary Under Penal Code PC 459
Let’s review a few situations in which an individual may face burglary PC 459 charges under California law:
- An individual breaks into a locked apartment while the owner is not home with the intent to steal a laptop and jewelry. In this situation, the individual who broke into the apartment can face burglary charges because they forcibly entered a residential structure with the intent to steal property valued at more than $950.
- The owner accidentally leaves their apartment open and goes to work. Their neighbor sneaks inside and steals a laptop and jewelry. The neighbor can be charged with burglary because they had the intent to steal the owner’s property even though there was no forced entry.
- An individual enters a woman’s unlocked house with the intent to rape her. Even though the individual who enters the apartment did not force their entry and had no intent to steal anything, they entered the apartment with an intent to commit a felony offense (rape), which is enough to constitute a burglary offense under California.
As you may have noticed, the intent to commit theft or any felony when entering a building or structure is the cornerstone of the offense under Penal Code PC 459. Without this element, the prosecution cannot secure a conviction.
Legal Defenses to Burglary Charges
If you have been arrested for committing burglary in California, you may wonder, “How can I fight a burglary charge?“ Common defenses to burglary charges include:
- Lack of intent. As discussed earlier, intent is a key element of the crime of burglary under Penal Code PC 459. If the prosecution cannot prove that you intended to commit a theft or any felony when you entered the building, they may not be able to secure a conviction. For example, if you entered a building believing it was your friend’s house, and you did not realize until later that you were in the wrong place, you could argue that you did not have the necessary intent to commit burglary.
- Mistake of fact / claim of right. You may be able to argue that you had a mistaken belief about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the building. Perhaps you believed that you had permission to enter or that the building was abandoned. If you can show that you acted on a reasonable mistake of fact, or that you had a good faith belief that you had a right to enter the premises, this could help negate the intent element of the crime.
- Innocence. In some cases, you may be able to argue that you are simply innocent of the charges. Perhaps you were misidentified by a witness, or there is evidence that exonerates you. If you can show that you did not commit the crime of burglary, there is no need to raise any other defense.
- Police misconduct. If the police officers who arrested you violated your constitutional rights in some way, you could use their misconduct as a defense to burglary charges. For example, if the police conducted an illegal search of your home or vehicle in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, any evidence they found may be inadmissible in court. If this evidence forms a key part of the prosecution’s case, the charges against you could be dismissed.
- You acted with the property owner’s consent. If the owner invited you in, or you had been given permission to enter the building at some point in the past, you could potentially use this to avoid a burglary conviction. If you can prove that you had a legitimate right to be on the premises, you would not be guilty of burglary as long as you had no intent to commit theft or any felony on the property.
Every burglary case is different, which is why the defenses that may be available to you depend on the circumstances surrounding your case as well as the evidence presented by the prosecution against you.
What Are the Penalties for Burglary?
The potential consequences of a burglary conviction can be life-altering and far-reaching. If convicted, the defendant can face a term in a county jail or state prison, not to mention a potentially permanent criminal record and other collateral consequences such as limits on employment opportunities and potential housing barriers.
California Penal Code PC 459 recognizes two degrees of burglary: first- and second-degree burglary. If the defendant entered a residential structure, they may face first-degree burglary charges. If the structure is commercial,” the defendant may face second-degree burglary charges. The degree of burglary impacts the types and severity of punishment:
- First-degree burglary. First-degree burglary is always a felony punishable by up to six years in state prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000. A lesser penalty, which includes a maximum one-year jail sentence, may be justified if there is evidence of mitigating circumstances. In this case, one year in jail for a first-degree burglary is usually followed by probation. However, if the victim of the crime is an individual under the age of 14, 65 or older, or disabled, the court may add an additional year of prison time. Having certain felony convictions on your record may justify adding two more years of prison time.
- Second-degree burglary. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler offense in California, which means the offense can be either a felony or a misdemeanor at the prosecutor’s discretion. Typically, felony charges may be justified when the defendant has prior theft offenses on their record. A felony second-degree burglary can result in up to three years in county jail, a maximum fine of $10,000, and felony probation. If the offense is a misdemeanor, the convicted individual will face up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and a misdemeanor probation.
Another thing to note is that a first-degree burglary in California is considered a “strike” offense under the California’s Three Strikes law. According to the official website of the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) in California, the Three Strikes law significantly increases the prison sentence of those convicted of felonies (a first-degree burglary is a felony) who have three qualifying felony convictions (“strikes”) on their record.
What Are Related Offenses?
Burglary is commonly confused with a variety of related offenses. Below is a list of such offenses along with a short definition of each:
- Possession of burglary tools (California Penal Code PC 466). In California, it is a crime to possess burglary tools (e.g., crowbars, picklocks, screwdrivers, pliers, and other pieces of equipment) with the intention of breaking into someone else’s building, structure, or vehicle.
- Forgery (California Penal Code PC 470). A person can be charged with forgery for falsifying a seal or signature or counterfeiting documents with the intent to defraud.
- Robbery (California Penal Code PC 243(e)(1)). California Penal Code makes it a crime to use physical force or threats to take someone else’s property or money against their will.
- Burglary of a safe or vault/ with explosives (California Penal Code 464 PC). If a person uses explosives, electric arc, burning bar, or any other tools to burn through steel or other solid substances to open a safe or vault, they can face criminal charges under this chapter of the Penal Code.
- Shoplifting (California Penal Code 459.5 PC). California Penal Code defines shoplifting as entering an open business during its normal hours with the intention to steal merchandise valued at $950 or less.
- Grand theft (California Penal Code 487 PC). California Penal Code defines wrongfully taking or stealing personal property, money, real estate, or labor valued at more than $950 as “grand theft.”
- Petty theft (California Penal Code 484 PC). California Penal Code defines wrongfully taking or stealing personal property, money, real estate, or labor valued at $950 or less as “petty theft.”
- Trespassing (California Penal Code 602 PC). A person who enters or remains on someone else’s property without (a) the right to do so and (b) the owner’s permission can face criminal charges for trespassing.
Depending on the facts of your case, you could be charged with burglary and any of the offenses outlined above. Alternatively, burglary may be reclassified into any of these related offenses if the circumstances warrant such a reclassification.
Burglary PC 459 Frequently Asked Questions
If you or someone you love is facing burglary charges under Penal Code PC 459, you might want to seek the assistance of a defense lawyer to answer your questions and guide you through the legal process. Meanwhile, you may find answers to some of your questions in the FAQ section below.
- What’s the difference between first and second-degree burglary?
The main difference is based on what kind of structure the defendant entered to commit burglary. If the structure is residential, the defendant will face first-degree burglary charges. If the structure is non-residential (e.g., storage facility or business), the offense is typically considered a second-degree burglary.
- What is a “residence” under Penal Code PC 459?
For the purposes of charging someone with first-degree burglary, the term “residence” can be defined as an inhabited room, apartment, house, hotel room, boat, floating house, or any other inhabited structure used as a dwelling (a place in which people live).
- What’s the difference between burglary and shoplifting?
Shoplifting always involves entering a business, while the crime of burglary can involve any commercial and residential structure. In addition, burglary means illegally entering a structure, while shoplifting lacks this element as the person can lawfully enter an open business during its normal hours. Shoplifting also involves stealing merchandise valued at $950 or less while burglary charges may apply if the burglar steals or has the intent to steal property valued at more than $950.
- What is the difference between burglary and robbery?
A person can face burglary charges for entering a commercial or residential structure illegally if they have the intent to steal something (not necessarily in the presence of the property owner) or commit a felony, while robbery involves using physical force or threats to take property from a person.
- What is the difference between burglary and larceny?
Both residential burglary and commercial burglary refer the unlawful entry of a structure with the intent to commit a theft or any felony offense. Larceny, on the other hand, involves the unlawful removal of property that does not belong to you.
- Can I get a prior burglary conviction reduced to shoplifting?
Yes, it may be possible to get burglary charges reduced to shoplifting if the offense was committed under circumstances that meet the definition of shoplifting under Penal Code 459.5. It may also be possible to reduce a prior burglary conviction to shoplifting if you (or your lawyer) can demonstrate that the conviction should be reduced, though doing so presents additional challenges. You might want to talk to a lawyer to discuss your options for getting the charges/conviction reduced.
- Does burglary always mean “breaking and entering”?
While “breaking and entering” is often synonymous with the offense of burglary, it is not the same thing as burglary. Breaking and entering may also be related to crimes of trespassing, vandalism, auto burglary, and others.
- What does it mean to “enter” a structure?
For the purpose of the burglary PC 459 charge, the term “entering” means going into a residential or commercial structure illegally with the intent to steal something or commit a felony inside. The offense does not necessarily involve a forced entry. Entering means that a part of the burglar’s body passes through the threshold of the structure.
The Law Office of Cherish Om: Trusted Burglary Defense Lawyer in Watsonville, California
A burglary charge is a serious allegation that can forever change your life if convicted. If you or someone you love has been charged with burglary under Penal Code PC 459, do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Cherish Om. As a burglary defense lawyer, I have the expertise, skills, and dedication necessary to handle your case effectively. Reach out to my law firm to discuss the details of your case and get the answers you deserve. Let’s start fighting for your freedom, reputation, and future today.