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Is Burglary a Felony in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Burglary is a commonly misunderstood property crime defined in the California Penal Code as the unlawful entry into another party’s structure to steal property from the structure. Like many other criminal offenses listed in the California Penal Code, burglary is a “wobbler” because it may qualify as either a felony or a misdemeanor based on the case’s specific details.

Burglary may qualify as a misdemeanor if the defendant broke into an uninhabited or commercial property, but if they broke into any residential property, they likely face a felony burglary charge. Breaking into an uninhabited structure or commercial property usually qualifies as second-degree burglary, and this can lead to a misdemeanor or felony prosecution. Penalties can escalate dramatically if the property owner was home during a felony burglary and a confrontation ensued.

While California enforces relatively relaxed penalties for many theft-related offenses compared to other states, felony burglary in California can lead to very harsh penalties. For example, a defendant could face heavy fines, civil liabilities for any victims’ damages, and several years in a state prison. Moreover, their penalties will escalate based on the details of the case, such as whether the structure they burgled was inhabited, whether they inflicted any bodily injury to the property owner or anyone else during the course of their actions, and the total value stolen.

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges in California, it is natural to wonder about the penalties you face and the severity of the offense. Ultimately, every case is unique, and every defendant needs individualized defense representation they can trust. However, there are a few foundational details of burglary cases in California every defendant should understand.

First- Versus Second-Degree Burglary in California

Almost all first-degree burglary offenses in California qualify for felony prosecution. This means that if the defendant is incarcerated as an element of their sentence, they will serve time in a state prison. Upon completion of their prison term, they will face an extended probation period. When a defendant qualifies for a second-degree burglary charge at the felony level, they will face a similar sentence, likely with a shorter incarceration term. At the misdemeanor level, a defendant will face up to one year in a county jail, along with fines and other penalties assigned at the discretion of the judge.

All defendants must understand how aggravating and mitigating factors work in criminal cases. It’s possible for a first- or second-degree burglary charge to lead to more severe penalties than those assigned by the California Penal Code due to aggravating factors or details that work against the defendant. However, it is also possible for a defendant to have room to argue for lighter penalties if any mitigating factors are present, such as a lack of intent to steal.

Reliable criminal defense representation is essential, no matter what your case entails. The right attorney can potentially reveal defensive options you hadn’t considered on your own. If you were wrongfully arrested or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, your attorney will help you determine what exculpatory evidence could clear your name and then assist you in securing it. Ultimately, regardless of what your criminal case entails, you must have defense representation in whom you can put your trust.

Potential Penalties for Felony Burglary in California

Any defendant charged with felony burglary in California could face 16 months, two years, or three years in a state prison for burglarizing a commercial property or up to six years in a state prison for a burglary offense in an inhabited residential property. It is important to remember that the crime of burglary is completed once the defendant has entered another person’s property with the intent to steal. Therefore, they do not need to steal anything to qualify for prosecution for burglary. However, if they did steal, damage, or destroy property, the value of the property in question will likely influence their sentence.

A defendant facing a burglary charge could also have additional criminal offenses added by the prosecution based on the defendant’s specific actions. For example, if the defendant resisted arrest and injured an arresting officer, they could have resisting arrest, and assault of a police officer added to their charges. If they committed any type of firearms violation in their actions, they would face penalties for violating California’s strict gun laws. If they have prior felony convictions, a felony burglary will count toward their record under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Anyone convicted of three felonies in California faces an automatic sentence of 25 years to life in prison under the Three Strikes Law. While many people believe this to be overly harsh, the reality is that if you face any felony charge with a record of prior felonies in California, you must do everything you can to mitigate your sentence. Though this rarely happens in felony cases, prosecutors are sometimes willing to make plea agreements with defendants when they have all the evidence they need for conviction. In addition, the prosecution may wish to conserve court resources and expedite the case by offering the defendant a lighter sentence or lesser charges for a swift guilty plea.

Find Legal Counsel You Can Trust

If you committed a burglary offense, your case might fall within the gray area for wobbler offenses in California. A plea agreement could potentially mean the difference between a misdemeanor or felony charge, and your defense attorney can help you make informed decisions about any plea offers extended to you by the prosecution. Likewise, if you were wrongfully arrested for a felony burglary you did not commit, your attorney will be crucial in proving your innocence.

The Exum Law Offices provides an aggressive defense of clients’ rights in all criminal cases. Whether you are charged with burglary, another property crime, or multiple offenses, we can help you make sense of your situation and develop the most effective defense strategy on your behalf. If you’re ready to talk to a criminal defense attorney about your situation, contact the Exum Law Offices today and schedule your consultation with our team.