California distinguishes between two types of burglary: residential and commercial burglaries. Residential burglary is typically a felony offense while commercial burglary can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
A commercial burglary refers to breaking and entering into a place of business with the intent to commit a theft or any felony offense. The loss in this case is suffered by the business as opposed to a person in a residential burglary. There is no minimum value placed on any property stolen.
Examples of commercial businesses include:
- Railroad car
- Mines or quarries
- Sealed cargo container
Intent to commit a theft may be demonstrated by the defendant’s dark clothing, possession of burglary tools, or carrying large bags or sacks in which to take away stolen property.
Degrees of the Crime
Commercial burglary is a “wobbler,” meaning that the prosecutor can choose how to treat the crime. If an item stolen is under $950, it is a petty theft and the state may opt to charge you with a misdemeanor, which carries up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. This would be considered second degree burglary.
If you steal items with a value that exceeds $950, or commit a felony offense such as assaulting someone on the premises with a weapon or seriously injure them, or if you have a prior criminal record, the state can charge you with a felony.
You may also have to pay restitution to the business owner.
Some related offenses to commercial burglary include:
If an item taken is less than $50, there are alternative sentences and dispositions where a first-time offender may have the charge dismissed.
- Petty theft
Stealing property valued at $950 or less is considered a petty theft offense. In some cases a Deferred Entry of Judgment can enable a defendant to have the charge dismissed upon completion of a diversionary program.
- Grand theft
Stealing property valued at over $950 is a felony and is considered grand theft. This includes theft of any motor vehicle or any firearm, regardless of its value. In some cases, a charge of grand theft can be charged as a misdemeanor.
Trespass is entering someone’s property without that person’s permission with the intent to interfere with any business activities conducted there or to damage property.
Possible Defenses to Commercial Burglary
- Lack of intent
In some instances, such as in a shoplifting context, it may be difficult to prove intent if someone walked out of a store having forgotten to pay for an item because of some distraction. Mistakes do occur and if no one saw the defendant acting suspiciously or deliberately trying to conceal something, then intent may be absent.
- No felony was committed
If a person unlawfully entered a business and did not commit a theft or showed any intent to steal, but who may have assaulted someone without harming them, no felony may have been committed. The person can still be charged with trespass and/or assault.
- Mistaken identity
If a witness did not have a clear view of the perpetrator or if a security camera was blurred, the wrong person may have been identified. Inconsistencies in a witness’ description can also be exploited by a defense attorney to show lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as commercial burglary, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Facing a charge of commercial burglary or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with commercial burglary, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.