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Aug 21, 2023

Understanding Vehicle Burglary Laws in California: Penalties & Defenses

Imagine finding yourself in a situation where you are accused of vehicle burglary in California. Being familiar with the state’s laws and penalties associated with this crime can make the difference between navigating the legal process confidently or feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty. This comprehensive guide will help you understand California’s vehicle burglary laws, related offenses, potential penalties, and the role of a criminal defense attorney in these cases.

Short Summary

  • Vehicle Burglary in California is classified as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of stolen property and the defendant’s prior criminal record.
  • Penalties for vehicle burglary may include jail/prison time, fines, and probation.
  • A defense attorney can help to build a strong case by gathering evidence, questioning witnesses & filing motions. Potentially reducing or dismissing charges.

Vehicle Burglary under California Law

Vehicle burglary, governed by California Penal Code Section 459, also known as penal code 459 pc, is defined as entering a locked vehicle with the intent to commit theft or a felony. Depending on the circumstances and the defendant’s criminal history, vehicle burglary, also known as second-degree burglary, could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

But what exactly constitutes vehicle burglary and what differentiates misdemeanor from felony auto burglary?

Elements of Vehicle Burglary

To be considered vehicle burglary, two elements must be present: forced entry into a locked vehicle and intent to commit theft or a felony inside. Entering a locked car or vehicle involves any part of the body or an object being placed inside it.

Committing a theft crime entails forcibly entering a vehicle to take something inside, whereas committing a felony implies intending to perpetrate a felony crime, such as stealing the car.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Auto Burglary

The classification of auto burglary as a misdemeanor or felony is determined by the prosecutor, considering factors such as the value of the stolen property and the defendant’s prior criminal record. Misdemeanor auto burglary is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail, while felony auto burglary carries a potential jail sentence ranging from 16 months to three years.

In addition to jail time, a conviction for auto burglary can result in a fine of up to $1,000.

Penalties for Vehicle Burglary in California

A person in a county jail, symbolizing the penalties for auto burglary in California

The penalties for California auto burglary vary depending on whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. In both cases, the consequences can include jail or prison time, fines, and probation, with harsher penalties applied to felony auto burglary.

Let’s explore the specific penalties for misdemeanor and felony vehicle burglary charges.

Misdemeanor Penalties

If convicted of misdemeanor vehicle burglary, which can be related to grand or petty larceny, one may face up to one year in county jail and fines as penalties. This relatively lighter sentence reflects the lesser severity of misdemeanor auto burglary compared to its felony counterpart.

Felony Penalties

In contrast, a conviction for felony auto burglary can result in a prison sentence ranging from 16 months to 3 years, as well as higher fines. The more severe penalties for felony auto burglary demonstrate the gravity of this crime and its potential impact on the victim.

The potential consequences of a felony auto burglary conviction are serious and should not be taken lightly. It is.

Related Offenses to Vehicle Burglary

Vehicle burglary charges can be accompanied by or involve additional offenses, such as grand theft auto, petty theft, and attempted burglary. Understanding these related offenses can help you grasp the full scope of potential legal consequences and how they may affect your case, especially when an auto burglary occurs.

For example, if you are charged with vehicle burglary, you may also be charged with grand or petit theft, depending on the value of the stolen items.

Grand Theft Auto

Grand theft auto is a serious offence. It involves taking somebody else’s vehicle without their permission, and usually carries a felony charge. This crime involves the theft of a vehicle valued at more than $950 and is punishable by up to three years in state prison.

Grand theft auto charges may be filed alongside or in addition to vehicle burglary charges, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Petty Theft

Petty theft involves the taking of property valued at $950 or less and is typically charged as a misdemeanor. The potential punishment for petty theft includes up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Like grand theft auto, petty theft charges may be filed in conjunction with auto burglary charges.

Attempted Burglary

Attempted burglary occurs when a person intends to commit burglary but is unsuccessful in doing so. Under California Penal Code 663, attempted burglary is defined as having the intent to commit burglary but being unsuccessful.

This offense is punishable by up to three years in state prison, and charges may be filed alongside or as part of a vehicle burglary case.

Legal Defenses against Vehicle Burglary Charges

Facing vehicle burglary charges can be a daunting experience, but there are legal defenses that may help you fight the charges and protect your rights. Some common defenses include:

  • Arguing that the vehicle was unlocked with no forced entry
  • Demonstrating a lack of intent to commit theft or a felony
  • Challenging the sufficiency of the evidence

Let’s examine these defenses in more detail.

Unlocked Vehicle/No Forced Entry

If it can be shown that the vehicle was unlocked and there was no forced entry, the burglary charge may be dismissed. However, other charges, such as petty theft or grand theft auto, could still be applicable.

In California, an unlocked vehicle or no forced entry is not considered ‘breaking and entering’ in cases of auto burglary in California.

Lack of Intent to Commit Theft or Felony

Proving a lack of intent to commit theft or a felony can lead to reduced or dropped charges in a vehicle burglary case. This defense can be supported by providing evidence of a mistake of fact, indicating that the defendant made an honest mistake and lacked the intent to commit the crime.

For example, if the defendant believed that the vehicle belonged to a friend or family member, the vehicle would have been destroyed.

Insufficient Evidence

Insufficient evidence to prove unlawful entry with intent for theft or felony may result in a weak case and potential dismissal. Inadequate evidence may include the absence of physical evidence, witness testimony, or circumstantial evidence.

If the prosecution cannot prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge may decide to dismiss the case.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

A criminal defense attorney talking to a client, symbolizing the role of a criminal defense attorney

A criminal defense attorney plays a crucial role in navigating the legal process for clients facing vehicle burglary charges. From building a strong defense to negotiating reduced charges or achieving case dismissal, a skilled defense attorney can help protect your rights and minimize the impact of a vehicle burglary charge on your life.

Let’s explore the specific ways a defense attorney can assist you.

Building a Strong Defense

Defense attorneys work tirelessly to gather evidence that supports their client’s case and refutes the prosecution’s claims. This may involve examining the evidence presented, questioning witnesses, and researching the relevant laws to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. By doing so, they can develop strategies that effectively protect their client’s rights and work toward a favorable outcome.

In addition, defense attorneys can file motions to suppress evidence, contest the prosecution’s evidence, and negotiate plea agreements to strengthen their client’s defense. These actions demonstrate the defense attorney’s commitment to safeguarding their client’s rights and achieving the best possible outcome in the vehicle burglary case.

Negotiating Reduced Charges or Case Dismissal

Skilled defense attorneys can negotiate with prosecutors to reduce charges or dismiss the case altogether. By presenting mitigating factors and evidence, a defense attorney can work with the prosecution to explore the possibility of reducing charges or even dismissing the case entirely, ultimately minimizing the impact of a vehicle burglary charge on a client’s life.

This can be a great relief for those facing a vehicle burglary charge, as the consequences of a vehicle burglary can be a great relief.

Silver Law Firm: Your Advocate in Vehicle Burglary Charges in California

At Silver Law Firm, we recognize that an accusation of vehicle burglary in California can be a daunting and confusing ordeal. Whether stemming from a genuine mistake, a misunderstanding, or a wrongful accusation, the legal ramifications can be severe and complicated.

Here’s how we can assist you:

  • Extensive Experience: With years of experience, we understand the intricacies of California’s vehicle burglary laws. Our expertise can help dissect your case, identify strengths, and address potential weaknesses.
  • Comprehensive Defense Strategy:
    • Evaluating the evidence against you.
    • Interviewing witnesses and gathering testimonies.
    • Seeking surveillance footage or other evidence that may exonerate you.
    • Challenging the legality of the arrest, evidence collection, or other procedural issues.
  • Protecting Your Rights: Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty. We’ll ensure you are treated fairly, your rights are upheld, and that you’re aware of your legal options at each step of the process.
  • Personalized Attention:
    • Rapid response to all your communications.
    • Open, honest, and direct conversations to ensure you’re informed and comfortable with every decision made.
  • Mitigating Consequences: We will negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges, alternative sentencing, or even dismissal of charges when possible.
  • Trial Readiness: If your case goes to trial, trust in attorney Elliot Silver’s ability to passionately advocate on your behalf before a judge or jury.

Why Silver Law Firm?

  • Champion for the Accused: Attorney Elliot Silver is dedicated to ensuring that every client gets a fair shot at justice. He fights aggressively, intelligently, and tirelessly to protect your rights and interests.
  • Prompt Communication: We pride ourselves on being accessible to our clients. You’ll never feel in the dark about your case.
  • Free Consultation: Our journey together starts with understanding your situation. We offer a free and confidential consultation to discuss the specifics of your case and to provide initial guidance.

Facing vehicle burglary charges in California can be intimidating. However, with the right defense and a passionate advocate like attorney Elliot Silver by your side, you stand a stronger chance of navigating the complexities of the legal system and seeking a favorable outcome.


In conclusion, understanding California’s vehicle burglary laws, penalties, and related offenses is essential for anyone facing such charges. By exploring potential legal defenses and enlisting the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney, you can better protect your rights and navigate the legal process with confidence. Remember, knowledge is power, and being informed about your situation can make all the difference in achieving a favorable outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is breaking into a car called?

Auto burglary is a crime in California that involves breaking into a car. It is specified in the California Penal Code Section 459 and is commonly referred to as bipping.

Bipping is a serious offense and can result in jail time and fines. It is important to understand the laws surrounding auto burglary in order to avoid being charged with a crime.

Is auto burglary a felony in California?

Auto burglary in California is classified as a “wobbler”, meaning it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, you can face up to one year in county jail.

What is the defense of unlocked vehicle/no forced entry in California?

In California, an unlocked vehicle or lack of forced entry is not sufficient to constitute ‘breaking and entering’, so the burglary charge may be dismissed.

What is the role of a defense attorney in constructing a solid defense?

A defense attorney’s role in constructing a solid defense is to gather evidence, identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and devise strategies to protect their client’s legal rights.

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