California law defines burglary as “entering a structure with the intent to commit a theft once inside.” Forcible entry or actual theft is not required to convict you of burglary. Simply entering a structure with the intent to commit theft constitutes burglary in this state.

A burglary conviction can have serious consequences in California. Could you be wrongly arrested, taken to jail, and accused of burglary on the basis of a misunderstanding or a mistake? How do burglary attorneys effectively defend their clients against false burglary charges?

WHAT ARE THE PROVISIONS OF CALIFORNIA’S BURGLARY LAWS?

First-degree or “residential” burglary in California is the burglary of a residence, hotel room, garage, vehicle, trailer, tent, boat, aircraft, railroad car, or a similar structure – provided that the structure is being used as a residence or is attached to a residence.

First-degree burglary is charged as a felony, and a conviction can be penalized with up to six years in prison.

punishments for burglary

Second-degree or “commercial” burglary is the burglary of a store or a business or any burglary that does not constitute first-degree burglary. Second-degree burglary may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor depending on the details of the charge and the prosecutor’s discretion.

A conviction for misdemeanor second-degree burglary can be penalized with up to a year in jail. A conviction for felony second-degree burglary can be penalized with up to three years in prison.

IS SHOPLIFTING CONSIDERED BURGLARY? Since California voters approved Proposition 47 in 2014, shoplifting is now a distinct crime, and shoplifting is no longer prosecuted as second-degree burglary in this state.

California law now defines shoplifting as entering an open business with the intent to steal merchandise valued at or below $950. A conviction can be penalized with up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONTACT A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRM IN CA?

If you are charged with first- or second-degree burglary or shoplifting in Southern California, it is imperative to contact an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney at once.

After reviewing the details of the charge against you, a good defense lawyer will craft an appropriate defense strategy with the goal of bringing your case to its best possible conclusion.

attorney reviewing your case

What are the steps your defense attorney might take? In most cases, the first step is trying to have the burglary charge dropped by the prosecutor or dismissed by the judge.

HOW IS A BURGLARY CHARGE DROPPED OR DISMISSED?

A burglary charge could be dropped or dismissed if the police violated your constitutional rights during the investigation of the burglary or during a search, an interrogation, or during your arrest.

If the charge cannot be dropped or dismissed, a burglary defendant may face a choice. If you are innocent or genuinely believe that you are innocent of burglary, you should fight the charge and insist on a trial by a jury of your peers.

However, if the evidence in the state’s case against you is convincing, and if your conviction on the burglary charge is a foregone conclusion, your attorney may recommend negotiating for – and agreeing to – the best possible plea bargain arrangement.

HOW DO PLEA BARGAINS WORK?

In a plea deal, a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for having the more serious charge dropped. If the state has a weak case, a better deal may be available. But if the state’s case is strong, a prosecutor may be unwilling to make a deal, so your case may go to trial.

plea deals in criminal cases

A plea deal gives the state a conviction, and it lets a defendant serve a less severe penalty. A skilled Long lawyer knows how to negotiate the best possible plea deal in any particular case.

If a burglary case goes to trial, in order to convict you, the state will have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a burglary trial, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant entered a structure or premises with a specific intent to commit a crime.

WHAT IS MISTAKE OF FACT?

“Mistake of fact” is the legal term for the defense that you simply made a mistake when you entered a structure or premises, and that you had no criminal intent because:

You made the entry to take something that you genuinely believed was yours.
Or you believed that you had permission to make the entry and take the item.

WHAT IF YOU ARE ENTIRELY INNOCENT OF A BURGLARY CHARGE?

The defense that you are in fact innocent of burglary might be the best defense. You might be factually innocent of burglary because of:

  • Mistaken identity: Someone who resembles you or has the same name committed the burglary.
  • Misleading evidence: Let’s say that your fingerprints were found at the scene of a burglary. If your attorney can prove that you were at the scene at another time and for another reason, the state’s case against you will be weakened.
  • A fabricated accusation: Innocent people are sometimes charged with crimes that never actually happened because of fabricated accusations by persons who are seeking to make trouble or get revenge.

If you’re arrested and charged with any crime, you have the right to remain silent. You must exercise that right to avoid incriminating yourself. Remain polite with the police and say something like, “I would prefer to remain silent until I can consult with my attorney.”

HOW ARE MOST BURGLARY CASES IN CALIFORNIA RESOLVED?

As soon as possible after an arrest for burglary or any other criminal charge in southern California, you must have sound legal advice and representation. You must contact an experienced Long Beach burglary attorney at once and adhere to that attorney’s advice.

A conviction for burglary charges – even a misdemeanor conviction – can have severe and lasting ramifications, but the right attorney can make all the difference. Your attorney will work diligently and aggressively to have a burglary charge reduced, dropped, or dismissed.

courthouse columns in california

Those are actually the ways that most burglary charges are resolved in California. Burglary trials are rare, but if your case does go to trial, your attorney will use every appropriate legal tool to cast doubt on the state’s case and win a not guilty verdict.

Every criminal defendant in California has the right to an attorney’s help. If you’re charged with burglary, your future – and even your freedom – could depend on having a good criminal defense lawyer working for justice on your behalf.