Burglary is composed of two parts. Burglary happens when someone breaks into or otherwise unlawfully enters a home or vehicle. This person also has to have the intent to commit a felony. Auto burglary occurs when someone breaks into or otherwise unlawfully enters someone's locked car with intent to commit theft or another crime that is a felony. This could include stealing an item in the car or stealing the car itself. It is important to note that for a crime to be charged as a burglary involving an automobile, the auto must have been locked. If it was not locked, you can still be charged with some other crime, just not burglary. Breaking a window to get in, removing parts of the car to get in or using a jimmy to open a door are all considered the forced entry needed to qualify the act as a burglary. The felony they intended to commit can be any felony, not just property theft. Furthermore, the burglar does not have to have actually committed the felony to be charged with burglary. Intent is the most important part here. It is important to note that because intent is such a big component in auto burglary, that if you broke into someone's care to retrieve something you rightfully owned, taking back that item would not be considered a felony so the burglary charge would be valid. The intent must to have been committing a felony and taking back what is rightfully yours is not a felony. Auto burglary is a second-degree burglary charge. It can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony conviction because it is considered a wobbler crime in California, meaning the facts and circumstances of the case determine, in part, what it will be charged as. If charged as a felony, it counts as a "strike" against your record for the purposes of the Three Strikes Law in California. Because this is up to the prosecutor's discretion, it is a good idea to have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side to ensure you have the best chance at a favorable ruling. As a misdemeanor, you will face jail time of up to one year in a county jail. As a felony, you could be facing at least 16 months and up to two or three years in a state prison. There are certain circumstances of the crime that can cause the prison sentence to increase from the minimum 16 months. If there was a victim involved who sustained injury or violence as a result of your act, your sentence can be lengthened significantly. Similarly, if the victim was a member of a vulnerable population, such as a child, an elder or a disabled person, your sentencing will be harsher. Having prior felonies on your criminal record will also result in longer prison sentences. In the case you are being accused of auto burglary, remember what you say will have a big role in the prosecution's job to prove you committed the crime. Because intent is such a big part of a burglary charge, you could accidently say something at the time of arrest that suggests you had intent. In this case, it is best to not say anything you do not have to. You should be read your Miranda rights at the time of arrest. It is a good idea to exercise these rights when so much is at stake. Also, the prosecution must prove you broke into a locked vehicle. Unless the officer actually witnessed you doing this, there may be little or no proof you actually performed this component of the act of burglary. The arresting officer may search your person, the surroundings and the car for any evidence the car was locked and you broke into it. If they cannot find evidence of this, you may be charged with trespassing, which is a less stigmatized crime. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss any potential defense options for your case. Even if you did not break into a locked vehicle with the intent to commit a theft or felony, if enough evidence is stacked against you, however questionable, you could be convicted if you do not have a good defense.
Have you or a loved one been charged with auto burglary? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can ensure you take the right steps towards having a strong defense in court. Call our offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.