Auto burglary is considered a second degree burglary charge in California and is a “wobbler” offense so that prosecutors may charge it as a misdemeanor or felony.
Elements of Auto Burglary
The crime of auto burglary is found in California Penal Code Section 459. It has the following elements:
- Entering a locked vehicle without the owner or operator’s permission
- With the intent to commit a felony or a petty theft
This includes a locked trunk. To satisfy the elements of auto burglary, the offender must have performed the act of breaking into the locked car, which could be as simple as reaching into an open window to unlock the car door. Similar to burglary, the offense only requires that any part of you or an object under your control enters the car.
The act of stealing a car is a felony in California. Stealing anything within the previously locked car, regardless of its value, is auto burglary as is any attempt to do so, even if the attempt failed so long as some part of the perpetrator’s body or tool under his control entered the vehicle.
Penalties for Auto Burglary
If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalty is up one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. As a felony, you face from 16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison.
Breaking into an inhabited trailer coach with the intent to commit a theft or other felony, however, is first degree burglary and a felony. Under this offense, you face up to 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison.
Related Auto Burglary Offenses
- Grand theft auto
This is a “wobbler” offense as well though it is typically charged as a felony. It is found under California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1). Unlike the difference between grand and petty theft that is dependent on the stolen item’s value, grand theft auto makes no such distinction. Grand theft auto requires that you intended to either permanently deprive the owner of the car or for a significant amount of time and moved the vehicle.
- Petty theft
This is a misdemeanor. You could be charged with only petty theft if you broke into someone’s car to steal a wallet or some other item worth $950 or less. It is more likely you would be charged with both auto burglary and theft and face felony charges.
If you merely took the car for a joyride and did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, you may not be guilty of grand theft auto. Joyriding is charged under Vehicle Code 10851 and is a misdemeanor if a first offense.
- Vehicle tampering
If the police or prosecution have a difficult time proving you had the intent to steal the car or steal some property within it or to commit some other felony, you could face a reduced charge of vehicle tampering, which is a misdemeanor. All the state needs under this offense is proof of damage to the car or that some part of it was removed.
Possible Defenses to Auto Burglary
Defenses to auto burglary include:
- Entering an unlocked vehicle
- Lack of intent to commit a theft or other felony
This may be available if the offender failed to complete the offense by not stealing anything or not committing any other crime.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as auto 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 auto 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 auto burglary, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.