Under California law, there is no crime known explicitly as breaking and entering. However, if you break and enter into a structure, you could face charges under other statutes. For example, you could face criminal charges under PC 459, burglary, if you unlawfully enter another person's home, building, or commercial property. PC 459 makes it a crime to enter a building or house with the intent of committing theft or felony once inside. Unlawful entry into another person's home or commercial property could attract trespass charges under PC 602. The potential penalties for breaking and entering include jail time, fines, probation, and imprisonment if the case is a felony. If you face breaking and entering charges, the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can help you fight the charges.
California Law on Breaking And Entering
California has no laws on breaking and entering. Acts associated with breaking and entering are charged under:
- Penal code 459 — Burglary
- Penal code 602 — Trespass
Burglary Under PC 459
According to PC 459, it is a criminal offense to enter a residential or commercial structure or a locked vehicle with the intent of committing petty theft, grand theft, or a felony offense once inside the building. You could face burglary charges even if you did not make a forced entry into a structure. Some of the common elements of burglary are:
- The defendant enters a residential or commercial building, structure, or a locked vehicle
- When the defendant enters the building, structure, or the locked vehicle, they do so with the intent of committing theft or felony once inside the building.
- One of the following factors should apply: the value of the property the defendant stole or intended to steal was more than $950. In addition, the structure or the building that the defendant entered was not a commercial structure. If the building or the structure that the defendant entered was a commercial structure, the defendant entered outside of working or business hours.
The prosecutor must prove each of the elements outlined above to charge you under PC 459. According to the law, you could face charges under PC 459 provided you unlawfully enter a building or structure. There is no requirement that you succeed in committing the theft or the felony while inside a structure. If you did not have criminal intent while entering a structure, the prosecutor could not charge you under PC 459. You would not face burglary charges if you formed the intention of committing theft or felony after entering a structure. For this statute, the following qualify as a resident:
- An inhabited dwelling or house
- Any room within an inhabited house
- An occupied boat
- An occupied floating home
- An occupied trailer coach
- Occupied motel or hotel room
- Any occupied portion of another type of building
Inhabited or occupied means that another person uses the structure as a dwelling. It does not mean that the property owner must be home or present when you commit burglary.
First-Degree and Second-Degree Burglary
First-degree burglary is burglary that you commit on a structure used as a residence. This could be a residential home, an inhabited boat, or an inhabited motel or hotel room. Second-degree burglary is burglary committed on a structure that is not a residence or inhabited. First-degree burglary is also known as a residential burglary. Second-degree burglary is also called a commercial burglary.
Difference Between Burglary And Shoplifting
Most people often assume that burglary and shoplifting are the same, but this is not the case. Shoplifting under PC 459.5 does not involve breaking and entering. You could face shoplifting charges if you do the following:
- You enter a commercial establishment
- You enter the said establishment when it is open or during business hours
- You enter the establishment with the intent of stealing property worth $950 or less
Shoplifting is a lesser crime than burglary, usually charged as a misdemeanor. In most cases, defendants have their burglary charges reduced to shoplifting charges.
Whether Burglary Must Include Breaking And Entering
Burglary could include breaking and entering. However, you do not have to break and enter into a structure for you to face burglary charges. You could face burglary charges even if you enter a structure through an unlocked, open door or window. You could also face burglary charges when you enter an open business. Trespass or a forced entry is not mandatory for the charges to apply. However, there is an exception to this rule regarding vehicle burglary. You can only commit auto burglary on an open vehicle. Therefore, you have to break into the car to steal it or the property inside the vehicle. Otherwise, you will not face auto burglary charges.
The Penalties Of Burglary
The punishment for burglary under PC 459 will depend on the type of burglary you commit. When you commit first-degree burglary or burglary on a residential structure, you will face felony charges. The potential punishment for a first-degree burglary could include:
- Formal probation, also known as felony probation
- Imprisonment in a California state prison for two, four, or six years
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
A first-degree burglary could also count as a strike on your criminal record. Second-degree burglary is a lesser offense than a first-degree burglary and has less severe penalties. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler chargeable as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor second-degree burglary could have the following sentences:
- Summary probation
- A jail time of up to one year in a California county jail
- A fine that does not exceed $1,000
A felony second-degree burglary could have the following penalties:
- Felony probation
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
- A county jail time of sixteen months, two years, or three years
Trespassing — Penal Code 602
Breaking and entering could also attract trespassing charges under PC 602. California law PC 602 defines trespassing as entering or remaining on another person’s property without the right or the permission to do so. You could face trespassing charges if you engage in any of the following activities:
- You enter another person’s property intending to damage the property
- You enter and occupy someone else’s property without permission
- You enter another person's property intending to obstruct or interfere with business activities
- You refuse to leave another person’s private property after being requested to do so.
Some actions that could seem harmless could qualify as a form of trespassing. These actions include:
- Taking items like shellfish and oysters off another person’s land
- Taking dirt, soil, or stone off another person’s land without the person’s consent
- Refusing to undergo screening in a courthouse or airport
The legal definition of trespassing under California law is intricate and broad. Trespassing does not require breaking and entering. Therefore, you could face trespassing charges even if you did not break into another person's property. For example, you could have entered the property through an open door. The elements that the prosecutor must prove to charge you with trespassing are:
- You intentionally entered another person's property.
- You intended to interfere with the person’s property rights
- You interfered with the person’s property rights by interfering with their business or damaging their property
You will only face trespassing charges if it is evident that you acted willfully. Acting willfully means that you acted on purpose or deliberately. It does not mean that you intended to break the law. You must also have had a specific intent when entering another person’s property for trespassing charges to apply. Having a particular intent means that you understood the act and its consequences. Unless the prosecutor proves that actual property damage or interference occurred, you cannot face trespassing charges. For example, you will not face trespass charges if you enter a property intending to interfere with business operations or cause property damage, but you fail.
Occupying Another Person’s Property
According to the law, you will face trespassing charges if you occupy another person’s property without the person’s consent. The meaning of occupy is remaining on another person’s property for a significant period.
The Punishment Of Trespass
The crime of trespassing is unique and can be charged as an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony (in rare cases). The majority of trespassing offenses are a misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, the potential consequences for the crime include:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
- A county jail confinement of up to six months
- A fine of not more than $1,000
In certain forms of trespass, the defendant could be subject to a jail time of up to one year in county jail. These forms of trespass include refusing to leave a battered women's shelter, even after being requested to do so.
A simple form of trespass could be charged as an infraction. For example, you could face an infraction trespassing charge if you enter another person's land without permission, but the land had no ''no trespassing'' signs. If charged with infraction trespassing, the potential penalties are:
- A fine that does not exceed $75 for a first offense
- A fine of up to $250 if you commit a second trespass on the same property
- A third trespass offense on the same property will attract misdemeanor trespass charges.
Aggravated Trespass Charges
You could face aggravated trespass charges if you make a credible threat to another person that you will injure them with the intent of making the person fear for their life. Within 30 days of making the threat, you enter the person's property or visit their place of work, intending to execute the threat. Aggravated trespass is a wobbler chargeable as a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a felony, you could be subject to felony probation or a county jail time of sixteen months, two years, or three years.
Legal Defenses For Breaking And Entering
You can beat breaking and entering charges by proving the following:
- You did not commit burglary
- You did not commit trespass
- The police arrested you without a probable cause
Below are the specific defenses that you can use to fight a burglary charge:
You Had No Criminal Intent
Criminal intent is crucial for you to face burglary charges under PC 459. You would not face charges under 459 if you did not intend to commit theft or a felony upon entering another person's property. The timing of your intent also matters. The prosecutor must prove that you intended to commit a crime when you entered the building or property. If you only formed the criminal intent after entering the building, you can use this fact to fight the charges.
Claim Of Right Or Mistake Of Fact
A claim of right is sometimes referred to as a mistake of fact. This defense is based on the fact that you acted based on an honest mistake. This means that when the defendant committed the crime, they lacked the mental state that the offense requires. For example, you can use this defense to prove that you only committed burglary because you misunderstood a particular fact and not because you had a criminal intent to do so.
You could use this defense if you entered another person's building or property to take something you thought belonged to you. You can assert that you had a reasonable belief that you had permission to take the item. This defense will only be valid if the mistake is honest and reasonable.
In certain instances, the police are often eager to close a case, making them engage in police misconduct. If you feel that the police were involved in conduct that violated your legal rights, you can use this fact to fight your charges. Some of the common forms of police misconduct include:
- Violating your Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting you to an illegal search or seizure
- Fabricating or planting evidence
- Asking leading questions to witnesses
- Coercing you to confess that you committed a crime
If you suspect police misconduct, your attorney can file a Pitchess motion. If the court grants this motion, the attorney can investigate other police misconduct complaints against the officer. If it is evident that the officer has engaged in police misconduct in the past, the prosecutor could dismiss your burglary charges. If your case proceeds to trial, the judge or jury could find you not guilty.
This defense involves proving that you did not violate PC 459. It is common for innocent people to be arrested for a crime they did not commit. Some of the reasons why people are arrested yet are innocent are:
- Mistaken identity is when you resemble the actual perpetrator of a crime or have the same name as the individual reported to the police.
- Misleading evidence — For example, the police could have found your fingerprints at the crime scene because you happened to be there before the crime. Just because you were at the crime scene does not mean you committed the crime. You could have visited the crime scene for legitimate or innocent reasons.
- False accusation — Someone could falsely accuse you of burglary because they want revenge against you.
It is essential to contact an attorney immediately after your arrest. You should not give up even if the evidence against you appears damaging. An experienced attorney will know how to explore and identify weaknesses in the prosecutor's case. As a result, the prosecutor could reduce or even dismiss your criminal charges with the proper defense.
Fighting Trespass Charges In Court
An experienced attorney could present certain legal defenses in court to help you fight trespass charges. The appropriate legal defense will depend on the circumstances of your case. Some of the potential defenses are:
You Had A Legal Right To Be On The Property
If you had a legal right to be on the property, you could not face trespassing charges. For example, you could have participated in a labor organizing activity or a lawful union on another person's property. Your attorney will help you determine whether you have a legal right to be on another person's property. You would not face trespassing charges if you were on a person's property because you engaged in a constitutionally protected activity.
You Had Permission To Be On The Property
If you had the property owner's consent to be on the property, you would not face trespassing charges. However, if the property owner requests you to leave, you should leave immediately to avoid criminal liability.
You Did Not Occupy The Property
For you to face trespassing charges, it should be evident that you entered and occupied another persons' property. Occupying means that you remained on the property long enough to deprive the property owner of the enjoyment of the property. It means that you stayed on the property for a continuous, substantial period. If you only had a brief stay on someone’s property, you can point out that you are not guilty of trespassing because you did not enter and occupy the property.
The Land Was Not Marked Or Fenced
You could face infraction trespass charges if you enter another person's land without consent. However, the land in question should have been enclosed or fenced for trespass charges to apply. Alternatively, the land should have had ''no trespassing'' signage at specific intervals. If the land was not fenced or enclosed and did not have signage, you could point out that you did not know that you were trespassing on private property.
Whether Breaking And Entering Can Attract Civil Charges
When you commit a burglary or trespass offense, the victim can file a civil lawsuit against you to recover the damages suffered because of your actions. The victim could file civil charges against you even if the court did not find you guilty of the underlying offense. Most civil lawsuits arise when breaking and entering result in property damage.
Find A Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you or your loved one is arrested for breaking and entering, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will investigate your case and help you create the best defense. Breaking and entering could have negative charges, including fines, jail time, and civil liability.
Contact us at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer if you need reliable legal representation. Call us at 310-502-1314 and speak to one of our attorneys.