Can I Be Charged with Auto Burglary If I Broke into a Car but Stole Nothing? (PC 459)
You’re walking through a parking lot on a hot day and you see a dog left alone in a locked car with the windows up. With the car owner nowhere to be found, you decide to shatter a window to help the dog. Could you be charged with a crime?
You see a cellphone in a car and you decide to attempt to steal it. You break the window, but the car alarm goes off so you run away without grabbing anything inside. Could you face charges of auto burglary?
Understanding Auto Burglary Charges (PC 459)
California Penal Code Section 459 defines auto burglary as entering a vehicle through the use of forced entry with the intent to commit grand larceny or petty larceny, or any felony. For the purposes of this crime, a “vehicle” is considered a car, truck, motorcycle or any other type of vehicle that can move along the highway.
In order to be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
- Entered a locked vehicle, and
- That after entering the locked vehicle, you intended to commit theft or one or more felonies
The prosecution also must prove that you used forced entry to gain access to the vehicle. This could include picking a lock or breaking a window. If the vehicle was not locked or the windows were down, you cannot be charged with auto burglary. However, if you took items from inside a vehicle that was open, you could face theft charges.
Could You Be Charged if You Didn’t Steal Anything?
So, if you broke into a car but you didn’t take anything from it, could you be charged with auto burglary? What if you were trying to save an animal or child?
You must have the intent to commit theft or another felony in order to be convicted of this crime. Your intent can be difficult for the prosecution to prove. Thus, your criminal defense attorney may be able to use the defense that you did not intend to commit theft in your case.
For instance, if you were attempting to save a child or pet from inside a locked vehicle, you likely did not intend to commit a felony and you should not be convicted of this crime. If you accidentally broke a car window, you should not be convicted of this crime.
Another possibility for your criminal lawyer is to attempt to get the charges reduced to the crime of tampering with a vehicle under California Vehicle Code Section 10852. You are guilty of this crime if you willfully injure or tamper with a vehicle or its contents or remove any part of the vehicle without the consent of the owner. Tampering with a vehicle is a misdemeanor offense. It carries a sentence of up to 364 days in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Auto burglary is punishable by up to three years in jail.
Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or someone you love is facing charges of auto burglary, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled criminal lawyers have over 40 years of experience successfully defending our clients accused of auto burglary. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, you can find a knowledgeable Wallin & Klarich criminal lawyer available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call our offices at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.