California Penal Code 459 PC

PC 459 – Auto Burglary in California

PC 459 - Auto Burglary

Burglary – Table of Contents

Auto Burglary in California 

Under California law, auto burglary occurs when someone enters a locked vehicle or its trunk with the intent to:

  1. Steal the car
  2. Steal property inside of the car
  3. Commit any other felony inside of the vehicle

In California, burglary of an automobile is a subset of the general crime of burglary (PC 459).

When you think of burglary, do you think of someone entering a house? But, the crime of burglary in California is not just limited to buildings and includes:

  1. Breaking into a car
  2. Breaking into a car or building to commit felonies other than theft

Perhaps even more surprising about California’s auto burglary law is that it doesn’t cover the act alone of breaking into somebody’s locked car. Rather, a car break-in is only considered auto burglary when the perpetrator intends to commit a theft or another felony inside the car.

What is Auto Burglary in California?

Let’s take a closer look now at the stipulations of auto burglary in California. Remember, the law states that to be considered auto burglary, the perpetrator must have:

  • Entered a locked vehicle — The law specifically states that the doors to the car or trunk must be locked. To be guilty of auto burglary, you must have altered the car’s physical condition to break into it somehow. Examples of entering a locked vehicle include smashing the window of a locked car to gain entry, using a screwdriver or other tools to open a locked car door or trunk, and reaching through an open car window without the owner’s permission, and unlocking the door.
  • You intended to commit a felony, or petty theft when you entered the locked vehicle — Another key piece of the legal definition of automobile burglary in California is intent to commit a California felony or theft, including, grand theft auto and grand theft and kidnapping. Petty theft is defined as stealing anything with a value of $950 or less. As we mentioned above, if you simply enter somebody’s locked car without intent to commit a felony or steal, you did not commit the crime of burglary of an automobile in California.

Auto Burglary Penalties

Auto burglary in California is a form of second-degree burglary — which is a wobbler offense (it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what the prosecutor chooses).

People charged with misdemeanor auto burglary will receive a maximum of one year in the county jail. On the other hand, those charged with felony auto burglary face up to three years in the county jail.

Related Offenses

There are some offenses that are commonly related to auto burglary in California, including:

  • Looting — People arrested for auto burglary during a state of emergency can be charged with looting under California Penal Code 463. Looting is considered a more severe criminal offense than burglary because of the surrounding circumstances, ie. Natural disasters and civil unrest.
  • Attempted burglary — If you don’t satisfy all of the requirements that warrant an auto burglary charge, you can still be charged with attempted burglary if you had criminal intent.
  • Tampering with a vehicle — You can be charged under California Vehicle Code 10852 with tampering with a vehicle if you willfully injure or tamper with any automobile or its contents or remove any part of an automobile without the owner’s consent. For example, slashing someone’s tires, stealing windshield wipers, emblems, and hubcaps can all be considered acts of theft, tampering, and even vandalism.

Legal Defenses for Auto Burglary in California 

If you have been charged with auto burglary in California, it’s important to know that you have options. An experienced California criminal defense attorney will explore all legal defenses and options to secure the most favorable outcome possible for you. Some popular defenses include:

  1. The car was not locked: One of the most effective defenses against California auto burglary charges is that the car’s door or trunk weren’t locked. If that was the case, you are not guilty of auto burglary. 
  2. You did not intend to commit a theft or felony inside the vehicle: Even if you entered someone else’s vehicle but had no intention of stealing or committing another felony, you are not criminally liable for auto burglary in California.
  3. The evidence against you is insufficient: In California, a jury should not convict you of automobile burglary unless the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions meet the legal definition of the crime. If the prosecution only has circumstantial evidence against you, a California criminal defense attorney can help you argue that there is insufficient evidence in the case to warrant a conviction against you.

We Want to Help

Are you fighting charges of auto burglary in California? Don’t go at it alone. Our attorneys are skilled and experienced in navigating the complex legal system and securing favorable outcomes for our clients with no jail time. At the Esfandi Law Group, we fight for our clients right to defend themselves, and provide vigorous, personalized, and highly effective representation. Contact us today for a free case consultation.

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Lara S.
June 4, 2018
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
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  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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