Auto Theft (aka Auto Burglary)
California Penal Code (PC) section 459

In California, pursuant to Penal Code (PC) section 459, auto theft, also known as "auto burglary occurs when someone enters a locked vehicle or its trunk, with the intent to:

• steal the car, known and charged as "grand theft auto",

• steal property contained in the car, i.e., commit the California crime of petty theft or grand theft, depending on the value of the items stolen, or

• commit any other California misdemeanor or felony inside the vehicle.


Penalties. California auto burglary is a form of "second-degree" burglary

-Second-degree burglary (including auto burglary) may be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts and circumstances of the act. The choice of how the offense is charged in that of the applicable prosecuting attorney.

Misdemeanor Penalties.

If auto burglary is charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is imprisonment in the county jail for One (1) year. However, if eligible the court could sentence the offender to summary (informal) probation, restitution to the vehicle and, or property owner, public works service and a fine.

Felony Penalties

If auto burglary is treated as a felony the maximum penalty will be imprisonment in the state penitentiary with a sentence of sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or three (3) years, again depending on the facts and circumstances of the act, the offenders past criminal history and other factors. However, if eligible the court could sentence the offender to formal probation which requires reporting to a probation officer and restitution to the vehicle/property owner. In addition, although auto theft-auto burglary, in all its forms, i.e., auto theft, petty theft or grand theft from a vehicle, and grand theft auto are ordinarily not a "strike-offense"  a  possible "strike" under the state's 'Three strike law' can be applied if auto theft-auto burglary is committed in conjunction with a strike offense. 


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Possible Defenses. A few often used possible defenses include:

• Demonstrating that the vehicle was unlocked when you came upon it and thus there was no illegal "entering of a locked vehicle".
• Lack of intent. That is, you did not intend to commit a theft or any other misdemeanor or felony inside the car.

As is readily ascertained by the possible penalties stated the prosecutor has considerable discretion in both how the offense of auto burglary is charged and, if charged as a felony, the length of the jail sentence that they will try to get the judge to apply. Therefore, the offender's choice of an attorney is very important. Ideally, one who is charged with auto burglary needs a lawyer that is both familiar with the prosecutor and is known by the prosecutor as a knowledgeable and
formidable opponent. These qualities in a defense attorney allow him or her to more easily convince the prosecutor to be lenient with the offender concerning whether the offense is charged as a felony or misdemeanor and if charged as a felony the length of sentence requested. In addition, these qualities provide a better opportunity for a dismissal or an advantageous plea bargain agreement.  Contact the Lee Law Group to fight to help get your auto burglary charges reduced or dismissed. 


Contact the Lee Law Group for additional information on penalties for this offense.


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