A lot of changes to the classification of crimes and sentencing guidelines have occurred in recent years, and members of the government and the public have been quick to point to these changes as the source of a perceived uptick in crime. California has some of the harshest criminal laws in the country, which overwhelmingly disadvantage minorities and the poor, and these changes are intended to reduce and mitigate that negative impact. Whether this perceived connection between criminal justice reform and higher crime rates is true is not clear. Anyone facing criminal charges of any kind should contact a criminal defense attorney about their rights for defense. A California lawmaker seems to support the contention that reform has caused an increase in crime by introducing a revision to the penal code that would expand the definition of what constitutes a felony auto burglary offense. A discussion of the current law, the proposed change, and how it could implicate many innocent people, will follow below.
Current Auto Burglary Law
Breaking into a car, referred to as auto burglary under California law, is a subset of the crime of burglary generally, and occurs when a person:
- enters a locked vehicle; and
- has the intent to commit a felony offense, such as stealing the car or stealing property in the car, or petty theft (unlawful taking of property worth less than $950).
Thus, simply breaking into a car does not qualify as auto burglary, because an intent to commit an additional illegal act was not present. Examples of acts that could result in charges for auto burglary are: breaking into a car to steal a phone, breaking a window intending to steal the car, or breaking into a car intending to hide inside and kidnap the driver once he/she returns. Further, it is important to distinguish what counts as locked, and when the law holds a person entered a car. Either the doors or trunk must be locked, and access obtained by changing the condition of the car. A person is considered to enter a vehicle when any part of his/her body, or object under his/her control, enters the interior. Importantly, it is not necessary that a defendant actually commit a felony or act of petty theft, just the intent is enough to be found culpable.
Auto burglary is a wobbler offense, and consequently, can be charged, at the prosecutor’s discretion, as a felony or misdemeanor. The circumstances of the alleged crime, and the accused’s criminal history will determine which option the government chooses.
In response to a marked increase in the number of alleged car break-ins in the San Francisco area, Senator Scott Weiner recently introduced a new bill that would expand auto burglary to include any act of forcible entry into a vehicle. In other words, the car no longer has to be locked in order to for this offense to apply. This modification may seem minor, but it has significant implications for future prosecutions, and the likelihood of conviction, if passed.
In order to convict a person of a crime, the State must prove that a defendant committed all the elements of the charged offense. If this burden is not satisfied, the jury or judge must find the accused not guilty. By removing the requirement that the vehicle be locked, the State will have an easier time of proving a break-in occurred, and remove an important defense for those accused of this crime. Thus, for example, a broken window could be enough for a conviction under the proposed revision. Using an experienced criminal defense attorney is key to identifying and asserting potential weaknesses and defenses in each case.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Manshoory Law Group, APC understand the frustration and fear of being charged with a crime, and are here to provide you with dedicated and effective criminal defense services so you get the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact the Los Angeles law firm for a consultation.