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Burglary: Broader Than Before

Long before the California Penal Code defined the crime of burglary, there was a Common Law definition. Over time, California has whittled away at that definition such that much more behavior qualifies as a burglary today than did some 100+ years ago.

For instance, under the Common Law definition, going into an unlocked house at night and stealing the silverware was not a burglary. Similarly, breaking into a jewelry store at night and stealing the jewels not a burglary. Even breaking into a locked house, during the day, and stealing anything and everything didn’t constitute a burglary at Common Law.

The Common Law definition of burglary has five elements:

  1. The breaking,
  2. And entering,
  3. Of a dwelling,
  4. At night,
  5. With the intent to commit a felony therein.

So in the first example, the fact that the house was unlocked meant there was no “breaking”, and therefore no burglary. In the second example, the building was a business, not a “dwelling”, so again not a burglary. In the last example, the mere fact that the theft occurred during daytime, despite all the other elements being satisfied, would have been enough to thwart any burglary accusation at Common Law. What an easy time to be a lawyer!

Burglary Definitions in Modern Day California

Presently, in California, the crime of burglary only has two elements: 2 and 5 above, or “Entering” and “With the intent to commit a crime therein.” This means entering any locked or unlocked house, business, or other structure, day or night, constitutes a burglary, just so long as the person “entered with the intent to commit a crime therein”. Thus, even if you walk into an open store during business hours, with the intent to commit a crime, that too is a burglary, and you can actually be charged as a burglar.

Contrary to popular belief, the “crime” the person intends can be any crime, and does not necessarily need to be a crime of theft. If one enters with the intent to vandalize, or to fight, or to threaten another person, and so on, such can all be burglary.

That being said, actual defenses to burglary in California, modernly, are more nuanced. Perhaps it was not you that committed the burglary? Perhaps what you intended was not a crime? Or perhaps you did not formulate the intent to commit any crime until after you entered the building? Any of these, and more, can effectively unravel a burglary charge by challenging it based on its elements.

Whatever the defense, your criminal defense lawyer should help you formulate a strategy for defending against a burglary charge. The Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse is here to help you, and to protect your rights if you are charged with burglary, or any other crime in California. Call our office at (888) 865-0741 to schedule a free consultation today with our Dublin criminal defense attorneys. Don’t delay, call today?