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Auto Burglary

California Penal Code Section 459 PC – Auto Burglary

The criminal offense auto burglary is defined in California Penal Code Section 459, which describes it as entering a vehicle with evidence of forced entry – intent to commit grand or petty larceny or any felony.

In simple terms, an auto burglary occurs when you enter a locked car with the intent to steal it or the property inside or commit a felony offense inside the vehicle. It should be noted if you are charged with auto burglary, you could also be charged with grand theft, petty theft, or a felony crime.

The term “burglary” is most often associated with breaking into someone's home or a business to steal the property inside. However, Penal Code 459, which is California's burglary laws, includes in its language breaking into a vehicle if there was intent was to commit theft or other felony crime after getting inside.

An example of a PC 459 auto burglary case includes a situation when someone breaks a car window of a locked car to steal a handbag they saw lying in the passenger seat. It also consists of somebody breaking into a vehicle trunk to take the property inside. To be charged with PC 459 auto burglary, there has to be some evidence of forced entry.

Auto burglary is a PC 459 second-degree burglary and a “wobbler.” This means the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. To give readers helpful information about Penal Code 459 auto burglary charges, our California criminal defense attorneys provide an overview below.

Definition of PC 459 Auto Burglary

California Penal Code 459 PC defines the crime of auto burglary as:

Any person who enters a vehicle when the doors are locked intends to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony.

There are two primary factors in an auto burglary offense – commonly known as “elements of the crime.” To be found guilty, the prosecutor has to prove these factors listed in CALCRIM 1700 Jury Instructions:

  • You entered a locked vehicle;
  • With the intent to commit a theft or felony crime once inside

It should be noted the vehicle must be locked, which means you must somehow get inside to be convicted for auto burglary. Standard methods to gain entry include breaking the window, using a tool, or even just reaching inside to open a locked door.

You “enter” a vehicle when any part of your body or object goes inside. You don't even have to open the door or place your entire body inside the car to be convicted of auto burglary. If a window is open and you reach inside to steal something, you have just committed PC 459 auto burglary.

The primary factor in an auto burglary offense is the intent to commit a theft crime or a felony. This means you forced entry specifically to steal something inside.

In the context of PC 459, to commit a felony means you had the intent to commit a felony crime, like stealing the car – commonly known as grand theft auto.  It should be noted that you must have committed theft or felony to be found guilty of auto burglary.

What are the Penalties?

PC 459 auto burglary is a second-degree burglary – known as a “wobbler” – which means the prosecutor can charge the case as either a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted of misdemeanor auto burglary, you will be facing up to one year in county jail. If convicted of a PC 459 felony, you will be facing 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.

Related California Offenses

Penal Code 484(a) – Petty Theft
Penal Code 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto
Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft
Penal Code 664/459 –  Attempted Burglary
Vehicle Code 10852 – Tampering with a Vehicle

Fighting PC 459 Auto Burglary Charges in California

If you were accused of committing Penal Code 459, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys could use a wide range of strategies to obtain the best possible outcome on your case. Every case will have unique facts and circumstances, and we will need to review the details closely. However, some of the most common legal defenses against auto burglary charges include:

Lack of Intent

If you go back to the elements of the crime above, a primary factor in a PC 459 auto burglary case is intent. If the prosecutor can't prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – you had the intent to commit a theft or felony, you could probably avoid a conviction. We might be able to make a reasonable argument there was a lack of intent.

Unlocked Vehicle – No Forced Entry

A common defense for a PC 459 auto burglary charge is to make an argument the car doors were not locked, and you did not force entry. Again, go back to the legal definition where it states the doors must have been locked to commit an auto burglary.

If the prosecutor can't prove this primary factor, you can probably avoid a conviction. In some instances, it might be difficult for the prosecutor to prove the doors on the vehicle were locked. Once again, our goal is to cast reasonable doubt and increase your chances at a reduced charge or even a case dismissal.

Insufficient evidence

In some PC 459 auto burglary cases, we might be able to make a reasonable argument the prosecutor has insufficient evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. We might successfully challenge the evidence or show inconsistencies or weaknesses in the case.

If you have been accused of committing an auto burglary crime in violation of California Penal Code Section 459, consult with our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review the details and legal options.

If convicted, you could be facing harsh consequences. We have a track record of success defending people charged with any theft crime or burglary charges. Our lawyers will work aggressively to obtain the most favorable outcome.

We serve clients throughout Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area and the San Fernando Valley. We are located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Contact us at 424-372-3112 for a free case evaluation.

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