California has different laws, specifically burglary laws, meant to protect people's property. Unlike other crimes such as theft where a conviction relies on tangible proof that there was stolen property, a mere evidence that you entered a building with the intention of stealing is enough for a burglary conviction. Thus, you need expert lawyers to help defend your case, and Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is always ready to offer you with criminal defense services. We serve the whole of Vista, CA and North County.
Definition of Burglary under California Law
Burglary under Penal Code 459 is defined as the act of entering a room or vehicle with the intention of stealing. Burglary does not necessarily require the use of force. There are different types of burglary depending on the crime scene; they are Residential burglary and commercial burglary. A residential burglary occurs at the residence of the victim. When convicted with this type of burglary, the defendant can receive a strike under the three strikes laws of California. This requires the defendant to serve over 80% of the sentence and 85% if the owners of the home were present at the time of the incident. This, in turn, causes substantial penalties when convicted in the future.
Commercial burglary, on the other hand, takes place when one enters a commercial structure with an intent to steal and then actually steals something. It can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. Shoplifting is often considered to be a type of commercial burglary. While prosecuting a burglary, prosecutors tend to argue that it is a misdemeanor if the alleged burglar was in possession of an empty bag, meaning that they might not have committed the actual stealing.
California law also seeks to differentiate burglary from theft and robbery. Although these crimes share several similar characteristics, the use of force while committing the respective crime is what distinguishes them. For instance, robbery is defined as the illegal act of dispossessing someone their property against their will. Theft, on the other hand, entails taking someone else property with the intention of permanently owning it. From these definitions, a person can be charged with robbery if they use actual force. Take the example of a local bank worker who sneaks into the office of his/her boss and steals the wallet without the boss knowledge. If caught, the employee could be charged with theft. He/she could also be charged with burglary if he/she had a prior intention of stealing, even if he did not accomplish his mission. However, the employee cannot face a robbery prosecution since there was no force involved.
Punishments and Degrees of Burglary under California Law
During the sentencing of a burglary case, several considerations come into play. These considerations range from the defendant’s criminal history as well as the use of force while committing the crime. If the defendant committed other felonies in the past, they can be subject to sentence enhancement. The sentence enhancement involves serving an additional one year for each of the crime committed in the past.
Additionally, fines and community services are often imposed on culprits who commit light burglary offenses. For burglary offenses which the prosecutors manage to prove that violence was used, the punishments are likely to be severe. These punishments, ultimately, depend on the degree of the burglary.
First-degree burglaries are defined as residential burglary. They occur when the crime scenes are apartments or houses designated as residences. On the other hand, California penal code section 460(b) burglary of the second degree is defined as commercial burglary. In the second-degree burglary, the crime takes place in a business premise or any environment that is not inhabited. The first-degree burglary fine is $10,000 and a strike under California's Three Strikes Law. The implication of this law is to have a convict serve 80% of the sentence, and in case the owners were around, they serve 85%. On top of that, imprisonment of two, four, or six years in the state prison is applicable.
Second-degree burglary can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. If it is a misdemeanor, the sentence is a maximum of one year in county jail and a maximum fine of 1000 dollars. For a felony, the penalty is sixteen months, two, or three years in jail.
If explosives are used, the offense would be charged under Penal Code 464 burglary with explosive laws. The penalty of burglary with explosives is three, five, or seven years in the state prison. A probation or parole can also be offered.
What is a Residence in the First-degree Robbery?
In a first-degree burglary, a house, floating home, boat, hotel, or a portion of any other kind of building that is inhabited is defined as a residence. Simply put, a residence is a place someone uses as a dwelling. Note that the residents don't have to be present for burglary charges to hold. If owners left an area and had no intention of coming back, then the place cannot be termed as inhabited. But in case they left because of natural disasters, then the area is still inhabited.
Implications of Proposition 47 on Burglary Laws
Proposition 47 was created to reduce the penalties of minor crimes such as theft crimes in California. It gives a chance to the person accused of felony crimes to apply for resentencing from a judge. Before 2014, when Proposition 47 was passed, it was usually a norm to charge a shoplifting offense with second-degree burglary. But the proposition recognizes that some forms of burglary meet the traits of shoplifting offenses in California. For instance, a burglary that involves stealing items worth less than 950 dollars can still be considered a shoplifting offense. But if convicted of burglary, the person would again face severe burglary punishments. Proposition 47, therefore, allows such persons to seek re-sentencing for their charges to be tried as a shoplifting misdemeanor.
Defense Strategies of Burglary Charges
Informal ways of settling the case such as giving bribes would deduce that the accused committed the crime intentionally. Thus, legal defenses are usually the best strategies of fighting any criminal charge. Below are some defense strategies that an attorney can use to fight the charges.
- Reclaiming what is rightfully yours. This will show that you had no intention to steal. What you wanted was to claim what rightfully belonged to you. However, any relevant information certifying the ownership of the item/property in question is essential in this defense;
- Mistaken identity. If the crime happened in an area that had poor lighting or the one performing the offense was wearing a mask, it would suffice to argue that the plaintiff could not identify the actual perpetrator. The criminal defense attorney will argue that the person who performed the act was not the defendant. However, you should have an alibi that proves you were not there when the offense was being committed. It is also essential to have a witness that can support the allegations;
- Insufficient evidence. Sufficient evidence is required for a conviction for any offense. Even though it lies in the judge’s discretion to determine if the prosecutor’s evidence is enough, a defense attorney can hasten reasonable doubts on the evidence. Some aspects that can indicate unsatisfactory evidence include lack of witnesses or the alleged victim’s unwillingness to continue with the case;
- Lack of an intention to steal. The defense attorney can claim that the defendant had no intention to commit any felony while entering a structure. Since the burden of proof of intent lies with the prosecutor, the defense team would challenge the claims by showing that the defendant had another reason to enter the said structure other than to steal;
- Misleading Evidence. Your fingerprints or belongings can be found at the scene of the crime, but in the real sense, you were not there during the offense. Besides, you might have gone to the area earlier due to genuine reasons. To prove innocence, the defense attorney must create doubt in the judge's mind. This can be done by presenting an alibi which will determine your innocence;
- Police misconduct. If the police try to plant evidence on you, forcing your confession and violating your privacy without a warrant, then that can be termed as police misconduct. Moreover, if the police defy the order of the permit or use pepper spray, and you have no option but cooperating, you may land a favorable judgment;
- The move was necessary. In case you believe that your life was in danger (such as someone chasing you) and decided to break into someone's house to escape, then the charges can be dropped. To assert this defense, you need to prove that you acted in that manner to avoid bodily harm to yourself or others. You are also required to prove that calling the police could not have prevented the damage. Moreover, you need to show that the act did not create a greater danger;
- Insanity. This strategy is applicable when the defendant did not understand the nature of his/her actions and did not know how to distinguish right from wrong. In most cases, the accused is given psychiatric help to ensure that he/she poses no danger to others or himself, and the charges may be dismissed.
Related Offenses to Burglary
- Possession of Tools That Will be used in Burglary under Penal Code 466 PC
It is a crime to have tools such as pliers, crowbar, slim-jims, lock pins, spark plugs, master keys, and screwdrivers with the intent of using them to commit a felony. If you are found in possession of such burglary tools, you can be sentenced to county jail for a maximum of six months and fined up to $1000. You may also be ordered to serve a misdemeanor summary probation. The probation lasts for three years. The most common defense for this offense is to claim that the tools do not qualify as burglary tools because they are not mentioned in penal code 466 PC. It is also possible to assert that you had no intention of using the tools for burglary.
Crimes related to PC 466 are selling or providing lock picks, possession of tools to tamper with coin-operated machines, use of code grabbing devices, unauthorized key in a state building, and possessing master keys.
PEN 211 PC defines robbery as taking someone's item in their immediate presence and accomplished by use of intimidation, force, or fear. Examples of acts of robbery are dragging someone and stealing their belongings while they are unconscious; breaking into someone's house and threatening to harm the people inside, taking their belonging, and getting away (for instance, by threatening anyone around). Robbery is considered a felony with penalties of two to five years in state prison.
Similar to burglary, robbery has two degrees: first-degree and second-degree robbery. A first-degree robbery takes place in an inhabited structure, robbery of a person who has just used the ATM and is still within the ATM proximity, or robbery of any driver or passenger in a taxi, bus, or any vehicle. The penalty of the first-degree robbery is between three and nine years in state prison. The robber can also be fined a maximum of 10,000 dollars or given formal probation.
In the second-degree robbery, the penalty is two, three, or five years of imprisonment in state prison. A 10,000 dollars fines and formal probation can also apply. But to be charged with this offense, the prosecutor has to confirm that the actions satisfy the elements of robbery and that it does not incorporate any incident of the first-degree robbery.
According to Penal Code 602 PC, trespassing is entering or staying in another person's property without authorization. Furthermore, penal code 601 PC allows trespassing to be treated as a felony if you enter another person’s house within thirty days after threatening the occupant's safety.
Even though violating penal code 459 burglary laws can seem like a violation of trespassing laws, this is not always the case. The difference between these two crimes lies in the elements of the crime. For trespassing, the prosecution must ascertain that the accused had no owner’s authorization to enter the structure.
In contrary, burglary charges depend on your intention when entering a structure. Thus, most burglary charges can be reduced to trespassing charges when there is not enough evidence that the accused intended to commit a felony.
- Burglary with explosives/ burglary of a vault or safe (PEN 464 PC)
The difference between this crime and burglary is that prosecution under PC 464 requires proof that the burglar used explosives (or any similar device) to get access into a secure place like a vault or safe. This offense is a felony, punishable with three, five, or seven years in state prison.
The Statute of Limitations Law (Penal Code 801)
The statute of limitation governs the time length that a prosecutor needs to wait to file formal criminal charges. It is intended to protect the defendants in cases where their ability to defend a claim is impeded because the witnesses or evidence are unavailable. The usual time to file any offense ranges from one to ten years. Specifically, felony offenses have a general SOL of three years while most misdemeanor offenses should be filed within a year.
Since residential burglary is considered a felony, prosecutors have to commence a formal case of this crime within three years. On the other hand, misdemeanor charges of burglary are typically filed within a year.
Other offenses related to burglary have a statute of limitation: three years for fraud, four years for breach of written contract, one year for defamation, two years for medical malpractice, and two years for breach for an oral agreement. Usually, major crimes have no or length time limitation while minor crimes have a time limitation. This is because the prosecution for major crimes requires lengthy gathering and compilation of evidence, and a short SOL for such crimes would see most cases unfiled.
If the prosecutor doesn't file burglary charges within the stipulated time framework, it essentially means that nobody would be charged with such a burglary. Consequently, most defense attorneys challenge the legality of any charges filed beyond the stipulated time frame, and defendants in these trials would have no case to answer. Failing to observe the statute of limitation laws also poses disadvantages to the victims. For instance, victims (who incurred injuries and property losses and want to file lawsuits for restitution) cannot file a lawsuit seeking compensation from the alleged suspect; this is because the court has not yet proved that the said suspect is guilty of a particular crime.
Going through a Burglary criminal case can be very stressful. This property crime can be charged alongside other types of property crimes such as theft and robbery. Thus, you need strong legal representation to fight against such charges. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is awaiting your call at 760-691-1551 to see how we can help you through your criminal case. We have defended clients with similar charges throughout Vista, CA and North County. Give us a call today!