Auto Burglary is one of the most prevalent charges in California criminal courts. Vista Criminal Attorney is a law firm which is made up of a team of attorneys who have great knowledge in criminal law; including the know-how of navigating around an auto burglary charge. Situated in the Vista area, the law firm mainly deals with persons charged of criminal offenses in and around the North County, California area.
What Is Auto Burglary According to California Law?
PC 459 of the California penal code explains that an individual shall be guilty of auto burglary if the said individual entered into a vehicle which was locked with a specific malicious intention. Therefore, PC 459 simply summarizes the two elements which must be proved by the prosecution before you can be convicted of auto burglary. The first element is that you should have had a specific malicious intent to enter a vehicle which was locked. The second element is that you actually entered into the said vehicle which was locked. Here are these two elements discussed in detail;
- Having a Specific Intent
For you to be charged with the offense of auto burglary, the prosecution should prove that you had a specific intent of taking something from that vehicle and that is why you entered it even though it was locked. The specific intent must include an element of you wanting to commit a California grand or petty theft.
If the prosecution successfully proves that you entered a locked vehicle in order to steal it, or to steal something in the vehicle where the worth exceeds $950 or to kidnap a kid or an adult; then the act may be held by the court that you had specific intent to commit a California felony crime – therefore you may have higher chances of being convicted of felony auto burglary.
Moreover, if the prosecution should be able to fully provide a proof of you entering a vehicle which was locked so as to prove you were trying to steal something of worth that does not exceed $950; then it will be held by the court that you had a specific intent to commit a California misdemeanor crime. Due to this, you may have a high probability of being convicted of misdemeanor auto burglary.
On the other hand, if the prosecution fails to prove that you had a specific intent of entering a vehicle which was locked so as to commit a California felony or a California petty theft; then your chances of being acquitted of the charge of auto burglary will be much higher.
For instance; John, while walking on the street spots a child who is looking distressed in a vehicle which is locked. The child notices John and he/she starts wailing for help. John, in a frantic effort to save the child, breaks into the vehicle. In this case, John will not be guilty of auto burglary since John had no specific intent to commit a California felony or a California petty theft. John simply wanted to assist the child – and this will be the main basis of his defense.
- Entering a Vehicle which is Locked
For you to be convicted of the crime of auto burglary; the prosecution should be able to prove that you entered a ‘locked’ vehicle. If your defense team can successfully argue that the vehicle was not locked; then you may be acquitted of the charge of auto burglary.
Entering a ‘locked’ vehicle means that you somehow broke into the vehicle – altering the physical condition of the car in question through the cracking or breaking of windows, opening the car’s entry points through an open window or using a master key to open the car’s entry points. If, however, the car was not locked but the trunk of the car was locked but you somehow broke into it – then you may still be held guilty of auto burglary.
Entering a locked vehicle does not simply mean that you fully entered into the vehicle with the whole of your body. Even if a part of your body or an object which you are holding penetrated into the vehicle; then you shall be convicted of auto burglary. For instance; Peter notices a wallet inside a vehicle which is locked but its windows are left partly open. In a bid to steal the wallet, Peter looks for a stick which can easily grasp the wallet. Using the stick, Peter successfully moves the wallet until it reaches just next to the window where he easily takes it with his hand. In this instance; Peter would be held liable to have committed the crime of auto burglary.
Penalties for Auto Burglary
Auto Burglary is deemed to be a second-degree burglary; implying a less serious form of burglary. Also, auto burglary is one of the few crimes which can be characterized as a California wobbler; meaning that it can be filed as either a felony or as a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of your case and your past criminal records.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor auto burglary; then your sentence is far less severe – a jail term which does not exceed one (1) year in county jail. On the other hand, if you are convicted of felony auto burglary; then your sentence will be more severe – a jail term of either sixteen months, two (2) or three (3) years in county jail.
However, if you break into an inhabited trailer coach; then you will be deemed of committing a first-degree burglary and you will risk facing, upon conviction, two (2), four (4) or six (6) years in state prison.
Legal Defenses to Auto Burglary
For you to be acquitted or charges reduced of auto burglary, then your defense attorney must apply certain appropriate defenses whose application will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Some of these defenses are;
- The Vehicle was not Locked
As discussed above, you can only be deemed to be guilty of auto burglary if the prosecution can successfully prove that you broke into a vehicle which was locked. Therefore, by you properly asserting that the vehicle was not locked – then this assertion will be one of your best defenses. Maybe you simply grabbed the car’s door handle and it opened. Or maybe you simply popped up the lid of the trunk and the trunk became open. Of course, you will need to apply expert evidence to prove this – and this is why you require the services of a knowledgeable criminal attorney.
- Lack of specific intent
Having a specific intent to commit a California felony or a California misdemeanor crime is a major element which must be proved by the Prosecution for you to be convicted of auto burglary as discussed in this article. Therefore, if you can firmly assert that you had no such specific intent, then the charges of auto burglary will not hold against you – and this assertion will be a major defense point for you.
- Lack of Sufficient Evidence
Unlike civil cases which may be proved on a balance of probability, auto burglary is an offense which is criminal in nature so it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Being proved beyond a reasonable doubt implies that the prosecution should leave no traces of doubt at all of you fulfilling the two elements; that you had a specific intent to commit a California felony or a California petty theft and that you entered a locked vehicle. In most instances, the prosecution may be unable to prove an auto burglary commission beyond a reasonable doubt. In such instances where the prosecution is unable to discharge its burden of proof, your attorney can raise the defense of lack of sufficient evidence.
- Permission from the Owner
If the owner of the motor vehicle had permitted you to enter the vehicle, then this may be a major defense for you – even though you had a specific intent to commit a California felony or a California petty theft. This may be the defense that you may want to assert before the court in order to reduce your charges and/or to be acquitted, that you had the explicit permission of the owner to enter his/her vehicle.
Maybe you committed the crime of auto burglary mainly because you were forced to do so by someone else. Or maybe your health condition or that of your beloved was in danger. Duress may lead you to commit any crime; breaking the law in the process. For instance; if you are held at gunpoint by an armed robber and ordered to break into your employer’s car and take all the money and give it to the said armed robber. In such circumstances, the defense of duress may be applied so that you can be acquitted.
Auto Burglary and Related Charges
The crime of auto burglary has other related charges which may seem similar to it but are different in one or more aspects. These charges are;
Auto burglary is just one of the types of burglary under the penal laws of California. Burglary is broadly defined by PC 459 as breaking into an inhabited residential structure, whether a house, apartment, business premises, ship or a vehicle with a specific intent to commit a California grand or a California petty theft.
There are two levels of burglary; first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary. First-degree burglary involves breaking into a structure which is inhabited by someone with a specific intent. second-degree burglary involves breaking into a structure which is not inhabited but with a specific intent.
As a rule, first-degree burglary will always be charged as a felony. Therefore, if you are convicted of first-degree burglary; you will be punished with either two (2), four (4) or six (6) years in state prison.
On the other hand, second-degree burglary is a wobbler meaning it can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If you are charged with second-degree burglary as a felony, you risk facing probation together with a jail sentence which does not exceed one year, or a jail sentence of either sixteen months, two (2), or three (3) years. If you have been charged with second-degree burglary as a misdemeanor, you may face a less severe jail sentence which does not exceed one (1) year.
Moreover, if you use an explosive device to open a safe, a vault or a protected place in another person’s premises; then you may be charged with burglary of a safe or a vault – as illustrated by California’s PC 464. This charge is always a felony and it has a more severe penalty of three (5), five (5) or seven (7) years in county jail.
- Attempted Burglary
In circumstances whereby the prosecution is unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you broke into someone else’s premises or structures without the owner’s permission, then you may be charged with the offense of attempted burglary. In this charge, the prosecution will simply assert that you had a specific intent to commit a California felony or a California petty theft and that is why you attempted to break into someone else’s premises or structure.
- Grand Theft Auto
In most instances, the offense of grand theft auto is normally charged with auto burglary. In committing the crime of auto burglary, perhaps you had a specific intent of stealing the vehicle – and that is why these two charges relate and why they are usually charged together.
Grand theft auto literally means that you stole someone else’s vehicle. This offense is also a wobbler; meaning that it can be filed as either a felony or as a misdemeanor. If the prosecutor finds out that you had an intention to never return that car but rather to dispose of it or to possess it, then you will be charged with felony grand theft auto. But if you only wanted to leisurely drive it, then the prosecutor will charge you with misdemeanor grand theft auto.
- Grand Theft and Petty Theft
These two charges are contained in PC 487 and are closely associated with auto burglary. This is because it is widely assumed that one of the main reasons as to why an individual will break into a car will be that the individual wanted to steal something which is valuable.
Grand theft, as illustrated by PC 487, involves stealing something whose worth exceeds $950, stealing a valuable under the owner’s nose or stealing something which is within the special category such as a gun or a laptop. The crime of grand theft is a California wobbler.
On the other hand, petty theft involves stealing something whose worth does not exceed $950. The crime of petty theft is a misdemeanor, therefore, it has a softer penalty.
- Vehicle Tampering
You may be charged with the crime of vehicle tampering if you altered the structural state of any car which is not your own. Also, if you remove any part of a motor vehicle which is not your own, you may face charges of vehicle tampering.
This offense is usually a misdemeanor; therefore, it has a lesser penalty. As a result of plea bargaining, your defense attorney may be able to reduce your charges of auto burglary into a vehicle tampering charge since it carries a lesser sentence.
If during chaotic events, you willingly break into a vehicle, premises or structure without the owner’s permission and take something without consent, then you may be charged with the criminal offense of looting. Some of these chaotic events may include floods, riots, earthquake or war. Looting is a much more grievous charge in comparison with burglary; since it will be assumed by the judge that you simply took advantage of the chaotic event to cause more harm to others and to gain what you did not deserve in the first place. If you are convicted of the offense of looting, you will face a sentence in state prison of which does not exceed three (3) years.
To be acquitted of auto burglary and other related charges, you will need a highly qualified, reliable and efficient criminal defense attorney. Vista Criminal Attorney has the expertise and experience to handle any auto burglary or related charges. Our team is composed of attorneys who can build a strong defense and either help you get your charges dismissed or get your charges reduced.
If you are being investigated by law enforcement officers or if your friend or relative is being held under arrest. Or if you feel like you might have committed a crime, please consult our attorneys. If any of these situations apply to you, call our Vista criminal lawyer now at 760-691-1551 and get a highly experienced attorney to give you legal advice on what to do moving forward and how to defend yourself.