Auto Burglary

California Penal Code Section 459 – Auto Burglary

The crime of “auto burglary” is covered under California Penal Code Section 459 and described as entering any vehicle with evidence of forced entry with the specific intent to commit grand or petty larceny or any felony. This means if you have been charged with auto burglary, you could also face criminal charges of grand theft or petty theft, or even a felony offense. In other words, auto burglary occurs when you enter a locked car with intent to steal it, or the property inside, or commit a felony inside the vehicle. Typically, when someone hears the word “burglary,” they automatically think about someone breaking and entering into a home or place of business to steal the property inside. However, burglary laws in California, PC 459, includes forcefully breaking into a vehicle if the intent was to commit theft or other felony crime once inside. A common example of auto burglary in Los Angeles County and especially Hollywood include a situation where someone smashes a car window of a locked car in order to steal a lap top computer they observed laying in the front seat. Another example includes a situation where someone forcefully breaks into the trunk of a car to steal the property inside. Under California Vehicle Code 670, a vehicle is described as device by where someone can be propelled, but obviously the most common forms of a vehicle in an auto burglary case includes car, trucks, or motorcycles.

It’s important to note here there must be some evidence of forced entry to be charged with auto burglary. Under California law, auto burglary is considered a second-degree burglary and a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be charged by the Los Angeles County prosecutor as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. If convicted, you could face harsh legal penalties. Therefore, if you have been accused of the theft crime of PC 459 auto burglary, you need to consult with the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at the Goldstein Law Group. Let’s take a closer look below at the legal definition, penalties, and legal defenses below.

Legal Definition of PC 459 Auto Burglary

California Penal Code Section 459 provides a simple legal definition of auto burglary as follows:

Anyone who enters any vehicle when the doors are locked with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary.

As you can see, this legal definition involves two main factors which is commonly known as “elements of the crime.” This mean both factors must be proven to be guilty of auto burglary, including:

  • You entered a vehicle that was locked
  • At the time you entered, your intent was to commit a theft or felony crime

PC 459 clearly states above the doors must be locked, meaning you must somehow get inside to be convicted of auto burglary. This could include breaking the window, using a tool to get inside a trunk, or simply reaching into an open window to unlock the door. You are considered to have “entered” a vehicle when any portion of your body or object goes inside it. This means you don’t have to open the door or even place your whole body inside the vehicle to commit the crime of auto burglary. In fact, a typical auto burglary case involves someone breaking the window and just reaching inside to steal property. It also includes situations where the window if left open. The moment you reach inside with intent to steal, you committed auto burglary.

The primary element of the crime of auto burglary is the intent to commit a California theft offense or a felony. To commit a theft crime simply means you forced entry specifically to steal something inside, such a car stereo or other property. To commit a felony means you intended to commit a felony crime, such as stealing the car, known as grand theft auto.  It’s important to note to must have actually committed a theft or felony in order to be found guilty of auto burglary.

Legal Penalties for Penal Code 459 Auto Burglary

As stated above, PC 459 auto burglary is a second degree burglary, which is commonly known as a “wobbler” meaning the prosecutor has the discretion to charge the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.  If you are convicted of misdemeanor auto burglary, the legal penalty includes up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail. If you are convicted of felony auto burglary, you are facing 16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail.

Related Offenses

California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto
California Penal Code Section 487 – Grand Theft
California Penal Code Section 663 –  Attempted Burglary
California Penal Code Section 10852 – Tampering with a Vehicle

Legal Defenses for Penal Code 459 Auto Burglary

If you have been accused of committing auto burglary in violation of California Penal Code Section 459, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use various legal defense strategies on your behalf to obtain the best possible outcome. Every case is unique and will first require a close review of the facts and circumstances. The most common legal defenses include:

Lack of intent – As discussed above, the main element of the crime in a PC 459 auto burglary is intent. This means if the prosecutor can’t prove, beyond reasonable doubt, you had intent to commit a theft or felony, you have a good chance at avoiding a conviction. In some cases, our lawyers might be able to successfully cast doubt about your intent.

Unlocked Vehicle/No forced Entry – A common defense is to argue the car doors were not locked and there was no forced entry. If you go back to the legal definition, it states the doors must be locked. Without proving this important element, you can’t be convicted of auto burglary. In some cases, the prosecutor could find it difficult actually proving the car door were locked. Again, the key here for our criminal defense lawyers is to cast doubt. If successful, you have a chance at a reduced charge or even a case dismissal.

Insufficient evidence – In some auto burglary cases, our attorneys may be able to make an argument there is simply not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. Perhaps we could challenge the evidence or show inconsistencies or weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case.

 Contact the Goldstein Law Group for Help

If you are facing allegations of committing auto burglary that violates California Penal Code Section 459, you should consult with our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys to review the details and legal options. A conviction could have life-changing consequences. We have a long history of success defending our clients against any type of burglary charges and will aggressively work to obtain the best possible outcome. We serve clients throughout Los Angeles County from our main Hollywood office, located at 1645 Vine St #809 Los Angeles, CA 90028. Contact our law firm at 323-461-2000.

Related Case Results:
Dismissal of all charges in Residential Burglary Case