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Burglary, under California law, occurs when a person enters a structure without permission and with the intent to commit a crime. The crime most-often committed in a burglary is larceny (theft), and although often used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish between “burglary” and “larceny,” as their treatment differs under the law. Legally defined, burglary is the unpermitted entering of a structure for criminal purposes including theft, while larceny is the unlawful taking of someone else’s property, which can take place even when there is no burglary involved. The penalties available upon conviction in a burglary case also differ, with the punishments for burglary generally being more severe than those for larceny.
In Los Angeles, a charge of burglary may be alleged when a person is accused of entering any of the different types of structures set out in the California Penal Code, including motor vehicles. The entry forming the basis for a burglary charge is sometimes by force which could result in other criminal charges. However, the legal threshold of entry may be reached by other means not including force, including the unpermitted pushing open of an unlocked door or walking through an open door without invitation to enter. The element of entry for purposes of burglary may also be achieved in cases where the accused’s physical body was never inside the structure or vehicle alleged to have been burglarized, but rather they reached into the structure to commit the crime of larceny or other criminal act.
Whether the burglary is charged as a first or second-degree offense will be determined by the structure alleged to have been burglarized. Under California law, the burglary of “inhabited” structures will garner a first-degree charge. To be an inhabited structure does not require that people must have be present when the burglary occurs. A structure is considered to be inhabited when it’s primary use is as a dwelling, even if the usual occupants were not present at the time of burglary. Also included in the “inhabited” category are structures that were unoccupied at the time of the burglary due to an emergency evacuation such as those that occur during fire season in California, or weather-related disasters like the ones that generally occurs in the Central Plains in the spring. Burglaries that do not involve an inhabited structure generally result in second-degree charges.
If the accused goes to trial on a burglary charge, the prosecution must be able to prove that they entered the target structure without permission intending to commit a crime. If burglary is proven and the accused is convicted of a first degree offense in Los Angeles, the penalty could be as much as six years in prison. If convicted on a second-degree burglary charge, which can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, the penalty could range from a year in jail to time in prison.
When a person accused of burglary has an alternative explanation for why they entered the target structure, they will want to mount an immediate and aggressive defense. With the help of legal counsel, they may be able to get mitigating factors of which they are aware into the court record for its consideration in assessing the appropriate penalty, if any. Such mitigating factors may include the malicious actions of a property owner based in animus or upon a misunderstanding, proof of prior permission given to enter the property, or even the unintentional entry into the property while under the influence of medication or other intoxicants.