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What Is Considered Burglary in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

California has relatively relaxed laws concerning property crimes compared to many other US states. However, a conviction for some theft-related offenses can carry severe penalties in California, and anyone facing property crime charges must understand the legal mechanisms in their cases. For example, burglary is a theft offense that pertains to a defendant stealing property from another person’s home or business. This offense is often conflated with breaking and entering and other property crimes.

The California Penal Code defines burglary as the act of illegally entering any structure with the intent of stealing property from the structure. Burglary can apply when a defendant has broken into another person’s home or a privately owned business. Like many other property crimes in California, burglary is a “wobbler” that may qualify for either misdemeanor or felony prosecution, depending on the specific details of the case and the scope and severity of the defendant’s actions.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in California Burglary Cases

Every criminal case prosecuted in California requires considering any aggravating or mitigating factors in the situation. Police can make mistakes, and some may violate due process laws in handling arrests and bookings for suspected burglary and other offenses. It is also possible for a defendant facing a burglary charge to make their situation much worse through specific actions. Aggravating factors work against a defendant and increase the severity of the penalties they face if convicted. Mitigating factors work the opposite way, allowing the defendant to argue for leniency in sentencing.

One of the most important factors a judge must consider when overseeing a burglary case is whether the structure in question was inhabited. “Inhabited” is legally distinct from “occupied,” so illegally entering any residential structure qualifies as illegal entry into an inhabited property. If the property owner is at home, then the structure is an inhabited and occupied property. Burglary of any inhabited property in California qualifies as a first-degree burglary offense, which is likely to qualify as a felony.

Should any altercation occur between a burglar and a property owner, the burglar would face significantly increased criminal penalties if they caused physical harm to the property owner, especially if they used a weapon. It is also possible for an offense that would otherwise qualify as a misdemeanor to be bumped up to felony status if the defendant caused significant property damage, stole a high value of the property, or engaged in any fraud, sabotage, or other illegal activity to enable their burglary.

Safe cracking, possession of burglary tools, and proof of intent to commit a burglary will all work against a defendant in this case. If you find yourself facing a burglary charge in California, you need a defense attorney who can help you prove that you are innocent if you were wrongfully accused or mitigate your penalties if you did break the law.

What to Expect in a Burglary Case in California

Burglary is a type of theft, and the California Penal Code assigns various penalties for theft convictions based primarily on the amount stolen. However, the way it was stolen can also lead to escalated charges. For example, when a defendant faces a misdemeanor burglary charge, they could face several months in a county jail, fines, and restitution to the victim equal to the value of the property stolen. The result of a conviction for felony burglary in California can include several years in a state prison, much heavier fines, and even more substantial long-term consequences.

The prosecutor handling a burglary case must prove entry and intent to secure a conviction. Proving entry means presenting evidence that the defendant illegally entered the structure. Proving intent requires evidence that the defendant intended to steal from the structure. Evidence that might prove this could include the defendant’s cell phone records and photos, proving they previously scouted the location for the burglary. The defendant’s possession of any burglary tools would also be a clear indicator of intent to commit burglary.

It is important to remember that while burglary and theft are closely linked in many criminal cases, a person can face a burglary charge without stealing any property. If an individual illegally enters a structure intending to commit any crime, they can face a felony burglary charge in California.

The most viable defense for most defendants in burglary cases is lack of intent. If the defendant can prove they did not intend to steal or commit any other felony, they may only qualify for a misdemeanor burglary charge or a lesser offense of illegal breaking and entry. Your Riverside criminal defense attorney will be crucial for formulating an effective defense, no matter what your case entails.

What to Expect From Your Defense Team

Facing any criminal charges can be incredibly scary, and the penalties you face if convicted could negatively impact your life in various ways beyond the court’s assigned penalties. Every American citizen has the right to an attorney when they face criminal charges, even if they are unable or unwilling to spend money on private defense counsel. A public defender is available to any defendant at no cost if needed, but any defendant with the means to hire private defense counsel must recognize the value of doing so.

A private Riverside criminal defense attorney with expertise can provide the ongoing support you need to confidently face each phase of your criminal court proceedings. For example, if you were arrested for a crime you did not commit, or if your burglary charge results from mistaken identity or some other misunderstanding, do not try to plead your case to the police. Instead, remain silent until you can speak with an experienced defense attorney.

The Exum Law Offices provides comprehensive criminal defense representation to clients throughout the Riverside, CA, area. We know how daunting it can be to fight the criminal justice system and how desperate your situation may feel if you were wrongfully accused. The sooner you secure legal counsel for your burglary charge, the more likely you are to reach a favorable conclusion to your case. Contact the Exum Law Offices today to schedule your consultation with an experienced defense team you can believe in.