California Penal Code 459 covers the crime of breaking and entering, otherwise known as burglary. This is a serious offense and is a felony charge. That means you’re facing more than a year in prison and excessively high fines if you’re convicted. Understanding the crime is a good beginning in preparing to defend yourself against the charges. And while you will play a big part in your defense and need to be present and active in your defense, it’s your lawyer who will be able to best explain the charges to you.
First things first: Breaking and Entering is not the official name of the crime you’ve committed. There is no such thing as a “breaking and entering” charge. What people are commonly referring to is the action typically taken by someone in the commission of a burglary. In this type of crime, they forcefully enter into a structure, home, or building. These days, burglary doesn’t even require a “forced entry.” Simply walking into someone’s home while they’re gone and taking something of theirs will be enough to get you charged with burglary.
So let’s get to the second topic: What kinds of crimes might someone be talking about if they’re talking about breaking and entering? Burglary is definitely one example of something a person might call breaking and entering, but there are a host of other crimes people are familiar with that might include breaking into a structure, building, or home and then causing some type of damage to that property. Another crime someone might think of is vandalism. This would also fall under the category of something someone might casually call breaking and entering, except when they break into the structure, they don’t steal something. They just destroy property.
Breaking and Entering Components
If you break something in this instance, you are gaining entry to a building, structure, or home by force or fraud. This is the breaking component. Entry would include anything that puts you through the door or entrance of that structure to do harm.
The most obvious example here would be something covered in Penal Code 459: Burglary. In the old days, you couldn’t be convicted of burglary unless you broke, or forced, your way into a property. Nowadays, that component doesn’t have to exist before burglary applies. That has long since changed, though, and breaking hasn’t been necessary for a burglary conviction since the 1800’s. That’s a long time ago.
Nowadays, it’s enough to simply enter a structure to do some kind of harm on the property or to the people on the property. When someone is injured during the commission of a burglary or other breaking and entry type offense, the stakes are much higher and you could be looking at a serious felony charge with years and years in prison, something anyone should strive to avoid.
In the case of burglary, there is 1st and 2nd degree, and your penalties will depend on the degree of the charge. If someone was living in the structure you burglarized, it’s 1st degree, and that’s more serious than entering an empty structure and burglarizing it (2nd degree). With 2nd degree burglary, you will face either a misdemeanor or felony (it’s up to the prosecution). This means you face up to 364 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, or both. 1st degree burglary is much more serious and could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail term of 2-6 years in state prison, or both.
A lawyer will step in on your behalf and begin to analyze the facts of your case. They will come up with a defense that they believe might benefit you. In some cases, the incident was a mistake and a good lawyer will be able to have the charges thrown out or reduced to a lesser offense (always a pleasant thing). If you do have to go to trial or take a plea, your lawyer will advise you and make sure that you do what is in your best interest. Without a lawyer, you can face stiff consequences. Always contact a lawyer if you’re accused of a breaking and entering type crime.