Defending Against Auto Burglary Charges in California

If you are convicted of auto burglary in the state of California, you could be sentenced to up to three years in jail. With such serious consequences looming, you need an experienced California criminal defense attorney to protect your legal rights. To convict you, the state’s prosecutor must prove every element of the crime of auto theft beyond on a reasonable doubt. This is a significant challenge because auto theft is what is known as a “specific intent” crime. The purpose of this article is to explain the crime auto theft, the doctrine of specific intent, and the legal defenses potentially available to those charged with auto burglary. If you have been charged with auto burglary, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest possible legal defense against the state’s efforts to deprive you of your freedom.

Auto Burglary is a Specific Intent Crime

Every crime has a specific legal definition. For example, the common law crime of battery is a harmful or offensive touching of another person without consent. When you are charged with a crime, you become a defendant and the state, as plaintiff, must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  The words “beyond a reasonable” doubt represent the burden of proof – a burden that the state is responsible for meeting. The words comprising the definition of the crime can be separated out into elements, all of which the state must prove. So, in the battery example, the state must prove that you touched another person, that the touching was either harmful or offensive, and that the person did not consent to the touching.  

In California, the crime of auto burglary has a two-part definition;

  • The entering of a locked vehicle,
  • With the intent to commit either a felony therein of the crime of petty theft therein.  

Thought this definition may seem succinct, there is actually a lot going on it. From the first element, you can infer that you may not be properly charged with auto burglary if the vehicle in question was unlocked.  From the second element, the first word that jumps out is “intent.” While actions can lead us to make inferences about intent, it is at it roots a subjective matter. As such, it can be challenging for the state to prove the contents of your mind. With regard to the commission of a felony or petty theft, felonies include the stealing of the vehicle, kidnapping an individual inside the vehicle, or stealing personal property worth more than $950 stored inside the vehicle. Petty theft in the auto burglary context refers to stealing personal property stored inside the vehicle that is of less than $950 in value. Importantly, you need only intend to commit any of these crimes after entering a locked vehicle – you need not actually be successful. 

Whatever the circumstances of the auto burglary crime you have been charged with, you need a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney to protect your legal rights.