According to the California Penal Code, burglary is a criminal offense that involves unlawfully entering or attempting to enter a property with the intent to steal something or commit a felony once inside. Ventura law enforcement can charge a person with burglary as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the exact circumstances of the alleged crime.

Penalties also vary depending on whether you the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or felony and can potentially be quite steep. However, a burglary charge doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be convicted. With a qualified defense attorney on your side, you can challenge your charges and may be able to avoid facing any penalties.

California Burglary Laws

California Penal Code 459 defines burglary as entering or attempting to enter a property without the owner’s permission with the intent to commit theft or a felony once inside. In order to be convicted of committing burglary, the prosecution must prove all of the following factors, also known as the “elements” of the crime:

  1. The defendant entered or attempted to enter a building, structure, locked vehicle, or a room within a building 
  2. At the time of entry/attempted entry, the defendant intended to commit theft or a felony
  3. Any of the following factors apply: (a) The building or structure that was entered was residential or not a commercial establishment, (b) the building or structure that was entered was a commercial establishment and was entered during non-business hours, (c) the stolen property or attempted stolen property was worth more than $950

In California, burglary can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Some of the factors that determine how the crime will be charged include:

  • Whether or not anything was successfully stolen 
  • The type of structure that was burglarized
  • Whether or not the accused used a weapon at any point while the burglary was being committed

Penal Code 459 is also divided into “first-degree burglary” and “second-degree burglary.”  First-degree burglary is the the burglary of a residential building or structure. Second-degree burglary is the burglary of any other type of non-residential structure. Whether or not you are charged with first- or second-degree burglary will likely affect the severity of penalties if convicted. 

There are several California crimes related to burglary that may share similar characteristics or are commonly charged alongside burglary charges. Below are some of the crimes most often associated with burglary.

Shoplifting – Penal Code 459.5 PC

While shoplifting is similar to burglary in many ways, there are a couple of important distinguishing factors. Shoplifting involves the entering of an open commercial establishment during business hours. For burglary to occur at a commercial establishment, it must be while the establishment is close. Additionally, shoplifting involves the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less while burglary can involve the intent to steal items worth more than $950.

Robbery – Penal Code 211 PC

Robbery is defined as the taking of someone else’s property from their person or immediate presence using force or fear. Robbery is a felony charge punishable by a California state prison sentence of 2 to 5 years.

Trespass – Penal Code 602 PD

Trespass is the entering of someone else’s property without the right or permission to do so. While you can commit trespass as part of a burglary, not all burglaries necessarily include trespassing. Burglary is characterized by the element of intent to commit a theft or felony on the property, even if no trespassing was involved. Trespass is usually charged as a misdemeanor or may be considered an infraction.

Burglary of a safe or vault, or burglary with explosives – Penal Code 464 PC

Penal Code 464 PC is defined by the use of explosives or torches devices to enter a safe or vault during a burglary. This crime is always charged as a felony and is considered to be more serious than a standard burglary charge. The penalty for committing burglary with explosives is 3, 5, or 7 years in California state prison.

Possession of burglary tools – Penal Code 466 PC

According to California Penal Code 466 PC, it is illegal to possess “burglary tools” such as crowbars, slim jims, or screwdrivers with the intent to use them to commit burglary. If you are carrying any of these kinds of tools when you are arrested for burglary, you may receive an additional charge. Possession of burglary tools is a misdemeanor with a sentence of up to 6 months in county jail.

Potential Penalties

If convicted of burglary, the penalties you face will vary depending on whether you were charged with first-degree or second-degree burglary, whether it was charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, the exact circumstances of the crime, and whether or not you have any prior convictions. 

If convicted of first-degree felony burglary, you could be sentenced with 2, 4, or 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Misdemeanor convictions can result in a year in prison and fines. First-degree burglary convictions often result in the convicted person serving at least 85 percent of their sentence. Additionally, first-degree felony convictions add a strike to your record under California’s Three Strikes Law. Under this law, after receiving 3 strikes on their records, repeat offenders are automatically sentenced to life in prison.

Second-degree burglary carries lighter penalties than first-degree, but can also potentially result in a felony conviction. Misdemeanor second-degree burglary is potentially penalized with misdemeanor probation, up to 1 year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. A felony second-degree burglary conviction might come with felony probation, 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

There are many legal defense strategies available for fighting California burglary charges. Your defense attorney will examine the details of your case to determine which strategy will give you the best possible outcome. Below are some of the most common strategies used.

You were arrested by mistake

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an innocent person to be arrested by mistake. Maybe you look like someone who was reported to the police for committing burglary. You may have been falsely accused by someone who wants to get you in trouble. Or maybe your fingerprints were found at the crime scene because you were there legally at some other time. If you had nothing to do with the crime in question, you may be able to fight your burglary charges by proving that you didn’t do it. 

Mistake of fact and Lack of Intent

Mistake of fact, also known as “claim of right,” takes into account a lack of intent based on your understanding of having rights to the property in question. For example, if you thought that you had permission to take the item you have been accused or stealing, or if you entered a building to take back something that was yours to begin with. In order to be guilty of burglary, you must have had intent to commit theft or a felony. You may be able to prove your innocence by proving a lack of intent or rights to the property.

Police misconduct

Were you coerced into giving a confession? Were your Fourth Amendment rights violated in an unlawful search? Was the evidence against you planted? If law enforcement violated your rights in order to make an arrest, you may be able to have your case dismissed.

With a felony burglary charge, your future – and your life – is at stake. As a Ventura defense attorney with over 30 years of experience, I am committed to aggressively defending my clients against felony and misdemeanor charges in both state and federal courts. By reviewing your case I can built a successful defense strategy that is tailored specifically to you. If you’ve been charged with burglary in Ventura, contact my firm right away and let me get to work fighting for your future and your freedom.