Being charged with burglary in California is a sensitive issue that should be taken seriously. If you have been accused of committing burglary, you risk facing jail time, hefty fines, probation, as well as a record that will follow you for the rest of your life. If you have been charged with burglary, please don't plead guilty until you've fully grasped your constitutional protections as well as the choices you might have.

Our attorneys at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are familiar with the laws regarding burglary and have years of expertise defending clients accused of similar charges.

The Definition of Burglary Under California Law

According to California PC 459, burglary is defined as illegally accessing a commercial or residential structure, like a building or room, or even a locked car, with a clear intent to conduct a felony or any other crime inside the structure. The offense is defined by the mere entry into the structure with the intent to commit a crime, irrespective of whether that crime was committed or not.

Under Penal Code 459, gaining access to the structure entails a part of the body, or having tools that would be used in the burglary, an item you control, and crossing the structure's boundary. This could be, for example, a balcony on a higher floor that is only accessible from within.

First-degree Burglary VS Second-degree Burglary

Burglary is classified into two categories:

  • First-degree burglary
  • Second-degree burglary

A first-degree burglary, also referred to as residential burglary, happens when a person enters another person's home, hotel room, or place of residence where they are staying temporarily or permanently intending to commit a theft or a felony.

The prosecutors must demonstrate the elements mentioned below to prosecute someone for violating PC 459 in the First Degree:

  • The defendant illegally entered a residence or a space within the residence
  • The burglary occurred in an occupied dwelling residence, vessel, or occupied part of any other structure, according to Penal Code 460
  • The defendant entered the house or room with the intent of committing a felony or stealing something

A second-degree burglary can be classified as either commercial burglary or auto-burglary. When a person breaks into a vehicle, or any other vehicle, with the intent of perpetrating a theft or a felony, this is known as auto burglary.

Trying to enter an unlocked vehicle does not count as an auto burglary. Second-degree burglary charges have to be brought against a defendant when he or she tries to break into the vehicle. This is usually charged as a wobbler meaning the defendants might face misdemeanor or felony charges. Commercial burglary, on the other hand, is charged when you illegally try to gain access into a commercial structure, such as a store, business establishment, or a mall, with the sole intent of stealing or perpetrating a felony.

Elements of Burglary

Several elements of burglary have been modified under California's current laws. Below are some of the elements:


Breaking is a wide and vague burglary element that needs to be fleshed out properly. If someone illegally entered a structure with the intention of stealing, they would be accused of burglary under conventional common law. However, in recent times, you don't have to have entered into a building to be considered a burglary offender. A burglary crime is defined as simply being at the premises illegally. It will also be regarded as burglary when you mistakenly extend the aperture of an opened window or door.


As per the California criminal code, the entry does not have to be forceful. An act counts as burglary if any part of the body was illegally in the building or premises and it can be demonstrated that you meant to steal or perpetrate a crime. Unlawful usage of equipment to gain entrance to a building also qualifies as burglary.

Current Laws vs. Nighttime Entry

Only nighttime burglars were prosecuted with burglary under the traditional common law. However, under existing California laws, any illegal entry, irrespective of the hour of the day, is considered burglary.


The traditional law viewed a victim's dwelling as his or her permanent residence. The present California statute, however, does not apply just to permanent residence. Burglary can occur when a person has possession of a specific target location. A few of the additional burglary locations currently encompass cars, stores, houseboats, locked vehicles, apartments, hotel rooms among others.

Intention to Commit the Offense

To be convicted of burglary, the prosecutors must prove that you had criminal intent when you unlawfully entered a property. If a person accidentally enters a structure, he or she will not be charged with burglary. To be charged, you also need to have common burglary equipment like wrenches, pliers, hacksaw, among others, for the prosecutors to demonstrate that you had the intention of committing burglary. Another piece of incriminating evidence can come from a videotape or surveillance video of the exact occurrences.

Penalties for Burglary Under California Penal Code 459

The penalties for a Penal Code 459 burglary charge vary depending on if you're charged with either first-degree or second-degree burglary.

First-degree Burglary Penalties

To be prosecuted for this crime, you need to have tried to gain entry to another person's residence without their permission. Any entrance into a home, whether the home is temporary or permanent, is considered a first-degree burglary. In California, it is a grave offense that is usually addressed as a "major felony." Any residential burglary may result in a 6-year prison sentence. If a juvenile or an elderly person was present at the time of the invasion, the sentence could be extended by a maximum of one year.

The following are the standard punishments for first-degree burglary:

  • A felony probation order
  • A two, four, or six years prison sentence
  • Handing back of all stolen goods
  • A fine of ten thousand dollars, or a mix of all the aforementioned penalties

Furthermore, first-degree burglary is considered a strike charge under California's three-strike rule.

Second-degree Burglary Penalties

This is generally classified as either auto burglary or commercial burglary. In comparison to first-degree burglary offenses, these offenses have lower penalties.

To be charged with second-degree commercial burglary, you must have tried to obtain entry into a commercial property to steal or commit a crime. Generally, when the court concludes that the goal of entering the business premises was to steal items, the person is liable to prosecution.

It is not considered a commercial burglary if the stolen item is worth less than $950. Rather, it will be charged as a shoplifting offense. Nonetheless, if the worth reaches and surpasses $950, you will be charged with commercial burglary.

You will be charged with auto burglary when you gain entry into a vehicle to seize it (also referred to as grand theft auto) or any of its contents. The prosecution establishes your motive if you are found with burglary tools or car master keys.

Types of Burglary Offenses

The charges that a defendant receives for a burglary crime are frequently determined by the facts of the matter. In many cases, actions taken during the burglary will raise the potential punishment if found guilty. In other terms, the typical prison terms for a burglary charge could be significantly increased, either because the offender has a history of burglaries or other major offenses, or because the details of the matter necessitate additional offenses like robbery or assault.

If the accused caused "great bodily injury" to someone else in the event of a burglary, or when the victim was present, he or she may face extra charges including such battery, which is outlined under the California PC 242 as the employment of force and violence against someone else, or robbery, which is described under California PC 211 as the obtaining of personal belongings from a person in his/her actual presence by using intimidation or force. In such cases, the offender could face far more significant penalties than if they'd have merely broken into a building where nobody was present.

Auto and Commercial Burglary Penalties

Second-degree burglary is considered a wobbler offense. Under the Criminal code, a defendant can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor, based on the prosecution's discretion. If charged as a felony, the following are a few of the potential ramifications:

  • Felony probation
  • A sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison
  • A ten-thousand-dollar fine, or a mix of the punishments listed above

The following sanctions are imposed when a defendant is charged with a misdemeanor:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A county jail maximum sentence of a year
  • Maximum fines of $10,000

Remember that based on the severity of the crime and the accused's criminal background, the court may opt to compound all of the above sentences in some situations.

Legal Burglary Defenses

While the sanctions for burglary might be severe, a competent criminal defense attorney can provide several legal arguments for you to assist you in fighting the allegations. Prosecutors must, ultimately, demonstrate guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The following are among the most popular legal defenses against PC 459:

Lack of Intent

A case is classified as a burglary in California when the prosecution establishes that the defendant intended to gain illegal entry into a structure to perpetrate a felony or a theft. If you entered a property without any intent, the case will not be considered a burglary. Prosecutors frequently build their case around the fact that you possessed burglary equipment such as hacksaws at the moment of the crime, and it's usually difficult to refute such evidence. Your criminal defense attorney, on the other hand, can use a variety of strategies to refute the aspect of intent. They may assert that you were inebriated at the time of the invasion. You could be certain of your freedom when you hire expert attorneys to deliver such an argument articulately.

Factual Error/Claim of Right

A legal defense against Penal Code 459 that is associated with lack of intent is a mistake of fact (also known as "claim of right"). For example, you wouldn't have violated Penal Code 459 if you:

  • You went into someone else's house to get the property you thought was yours; or
  • You were under the impression that you had consented to collect the object

Factual Innocence

Among the most effective ways of fighting Penal Code 459 charges is to demonstrate that you did not do it. It's not unusual for innocent persons to be wrongfully arrested.

This could be due to a variety of factors.

  • Mistaken identification (perhaps you bear the same appearance or name as somebody who has been perpetrated the crime)
  • Factually inaccurate proof (for instance, your fingerprints were discovered at the crime scene, but only since had earlier been at the scene for unsuspecting and valid purposes)
  • Somebody is trying to accuse you unfairly since they are mentally ill or intend to seek vengeance against you

That's why it is critical to contact a Riverside criminal defense lawyer as soon as you have been unfairly charged. Even though the evidence looks to be damning, a good lawyer will be able to expose the prosecution's flaws. A strong legal defense could persuade the prosecution to drop or lessen your accusations.

Police Misconduct

The authorities can sometimes be overly anxious to settle a case at times. Sadly, this may force them to act in ways that violate their rights. The following are examples of unjust actions:

  • Evidence "planting" or "fabrication"
  • Posing leading queries of eyewitness accounts throughout a line-up
  • Infringing on your rights to be free from illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment; or
  • Coercing you into confessing

If there is suspicion of police wrongdoing, your attorney can submit a Pitchess motion against the officer. A Pitchess motion, if approved, lets your attorney see if other people have complained about the law enforcement authority previously.

The prosecution or court may drop your Penal Code 459 charges if the attorney can prove that the police officer has a habit of misconduct. If the matter gets to trial, a jury could find you to be innocent.

Failure to Properly Dictate the Miranda Rights

When being arrested, everybody has the constitutional right to Miranda warnings. Miranda rights are usually dictated to an offender by the arresting police during the arrest.

If the law enforcement officer declines to dictate these warnings, your legal defense team may be capable of throwing out all of the proof. As per the "fruit of the poisonous tree" rule, all evidence obtained by improper interrogation is inadmissible in court. However, you'll require a lawyer who focuses on burglary cases to show that the Miranda rights were not given. The attorney will submit all the essential petitions for you to have the proof you supplied the responding officers concealed.

An Alibi Defense

The permissible word for verifying that you had been in another place at the time the crime was being committed is an alibi. In California, this is among the most popular burglary defenses. Your defense lawyer will need to show that you were not present at the scene of the crime. He or she has the option of counting on other people's testimonies or obtaining surveillance footage from the crime scene. The other individual must be constrained by an oath to deliver such proof. If the court is persuaded, you will be released based on an alibi defense. However, you'll require the assistance of a competent attorney.

Consented Entry

If you had been permitted to enter the premises, you do not have a charge to defend. But first, you must establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that you had been permitted to be in the building or structure of the crime scene. In fact, for burglary crimes, it is the most obvious defense. The two most popular arguments in such a case are:

  • Assessing whether or not you are the legal proprietor of the property in question
  • Demonstrate that the proprietor of the premises welcomed you over

In burglary cases, the above are some of the few arguments that can assure your release. You must be honest with your criminal defense attorney to assist them in identifying a weak spot in your prosecution's case, after which he or she will swiftly adopt a strategy to pursue your case.

Burglary-Related Offenses

The following are crimes that are often linked to burglary:

Possession of Burglary Tools Under California PC 466

It is prohibited to carry any burglary equipment to employ them to conduct a felony or a theft under PC 466. It's against the law to change or destroy a property's locks or keys without the owner's permission. Under California statutes, regular burglary equipment includes screwdrivers, slim jims, plies, and crowbars.

If you're apprehended with this equipment during a theft arrest, you'll face criminal charges under PC 459 as well as 466, which can significantly enhance your sentence. Possession of burglary tools is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a jail term of 6 months.

Forgery Under California PC 470

This is described as willfully making, using, or changing any written documentation to deceive unsuspecting people under PC 470. Most people believe that burglary entails forcing entry into a property to steal material items. However, burglary is also committed when someone enters a business premises intending to commit forgery by writing or cashing a falsified check.

Forgery is usually charged as a wobbler, and based on the case, it could be either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Robbery Under PC 211

Robbery is covered by California's PC 211. It is the act of forcibly taking someone else's property from their immediate person. A defendant will be convicted of both burglary and robbery in if:

  • He or she forcibly enters someone else's property, house, or structure
  • Once the defendants enter the premises, he or she goes ahead to use intimidation, threat, or force to acquire property from the premises
  • When he or she entered the premises, they intended to commit both crimes

Robbery has always been considered a felony offense in California, and it can result in a prison sentence of up to a maximum of five years.

Trespass Under PC 602

Trespassing is described as the unauthorized entry into someone else's property under California PC 602. The burglary statute centers on your intent at the time of the unlawful entry. The trespassing law, on the other hand, emphasizes the notion that the other person agreed to your being on their premises. Trespass is usually classified as a misdemeanor, however, it can also be charged with an infraction in particular instances. A skilled defense attorney will even employ the trespassing code to lessen the severity of the accusations against you. However, trespassing can be considered a felony.

Entry into a home, property, or residence within the initial 30 days of causing any threats to the proprietor's safety is automatically classified as "aggravated trespass" according to PC 601, and the penalties to these charges could be harsh.

Vault or Safe Burglary or Burglary with Explosives

This offense is addressed under PC 464. People who employ explosives. acetylene torches or comparable devices to gain entry to vaults, safes, or other guarded areas in a burglary are charged with this offense. It is among the most serious burglary acts and, irrespective of the purpose, it is charged as a felony. Felony charges are quite serious, especially in terms of the perpetrator's future image. A few of the possible penalties for this crime include state imprisonment of up to 3, 5, or 7 years.

Find a Riverside Burglary Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Burglary accusations could lead to serious charges that, when proven, can have a significant impact on an accused's work and personal life. If you or someone you know has been accused of burglary in Riverside, please call the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm for additional details on the statutes governing burglary as well as your constitutional protections and other alternatives. Our knowledgeable attorneys are well-versed in the criminal repercussions of a burglary charge and will vigorously defend your privileges and work to have your charges dropped or lowered. Call us at 951-946-6366.