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Types of Burglary Charges in California

by Lindsay Chambers

California Penal Code 459 defines burglary as a crime against property, punishable by up to six years in state prison. You commit this offense when you enter any commercial or residential building or locked vehicle with the intent to commit grand theft, petty theft or any felony offense once inside. 

First-Degree and Second-Degree Burglary

California law categorizes burglary charges as first degree or second degree, according to where the crimes take place. First-degree burglaries involve residences, while second-degree burglaries include any other structure, such as shops, banks and restaurants. 

  • Residential burglary is always a felony and involves a state prison sentence of two, four or six years and a fine of up to $10,000. Having a first-degree burglary charge on your record will count against you as a “strike” under California’s three-strikes law.
  • Second-degree burglary is what’s known as a “wobbler,” which means it can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a felony, it carries a possible county jail sentence of up to three years. If a judge rules a second-degree burglary is a misdemeanor, you could serve up to a year in county jail.  

Burglary vs. Breaking and Entering

Our statewide legal system makes a distinction between burglary and the crime typically known as breaking and entering. In California, a judge can find you guilty of burglary even if you did not force your way into a property. For example, if you walked into a home through an unlocked door and stole someone’s television, you have committed a property crime under PC 459. The exception to this rule is auto burglary, which you can only commit if the car doors are locked.

Conviction of burglary charges in California hinge on the defendant’s entry into a building or another structure. Under PC 459, you have entered a structure even if only part of your body or an object you’re holding breaches the building’s “outer boundary.” For instance, smashing a window with a crowbar and using it to reach inside someone’s business qualifies as entering, even if your arm is technically the only part of your body that ever gets inside.

How to Defend Yourself Against Burglary Charges in California

Besides entry, the legal definition of California burglary revolves around intent. That means even if you got caught or fled the scene before successfully carrying out a burglary, a judge can still charge you with a crime if a prosecutor can prove your intent to break the law. 

To protect your freedom, you need to secure legal representation from a criminal defense attorney with experience in high-profile burglary cases. Typical defenses include mistaken identity and having express permission to be on someone else’s property, among others.

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we pledge to treat every client with the respect their case deserves, regardless of your unique circumstances or the crime you allegedly committed. Please contact us today to schedule your confidential consultation and discuss your options.

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