Burglary and Home Invasions in California

In California, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering into a vehicle or building in order to commit a crime inside. Residential burglary, sometimes called home invasion burglary, is punished more severely. California also has laws against unauthorized entry or trespass (entering a residence without permission). For general information on these and related crimes, see Home Invasions, Burglary: Penalties and Sentencing, and Trespassing Penalties.


Historically, burglary was defined as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Today, states have done away with many of these requirements and broadened the definition of burglary. In California, a person commits burglary by entering into any building, room, store, vehicle, shipping container, or mine without permission and with the intent to commit theft or a felony (a crime punishable by time in prison) inside. For example, a person who goes into someone else’s apartment in order to steal a laptop has committed burglary.

Home invasion burglaries are punished more harshly, as first degree burglary, and so are burglaries committed with explosives (these are explained more fully below). Other types of burglary are called second degree burglary in California. Second degree burglary during a state of emergency is considered looting. For example, a person who breaks into a corner store to steal booze during a state of emergency following an earthquake could be convicted of looting. (Cal. Pen. Code § § 458, 459, 463.)

First degree burglary

Under California law, burglary of an “inhabited” building or vehicle is punished more severely. “Inhabited” means currently being used for residential purposes, whether occupied or not. An inhabited building or vehicle does not need to be a person’s primary or regular residence. Vacation homes, apartments, houseboats, and RVs are all considered “inhabited” buildings or vehicles under California law. (Cal. Pen. Code § § 460, 461.)

Burglary with explosives

Burglary with explosives is committed by going into a building, intending to commit a crime, and opening or trying to open a vault, safe, or similar container with explosives, a torch, or any equipment that can burn through steel, concrete, or any other solid substance. (Cal. Pen. Code § 464.)

Intent to commit a crime

How do you know if the defendant intends to commit theft or some other crime? In most cases, the defendant’s intention can be established by the circumstances surrounding the burglary. For example, if police arrive at a home in response to an alarm system, just as the defendant – who does not live there – is loading a television into a van, then a jury could probably conclude that defendant entered into the home with the intent to commit theft.

The crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters into the building or vehicle with the illicit intent, even if the intended felony or theft never occurs. For example, if the police arrive while defendant is trying to remove the television from the wall, the defendant has still committed burglary (and attempted theft).

Unauthorized Entry

Under California law, a person commits the crime of unauthorized entry by entering or remaining in a residence without permission from the owner or resident. Unauthorized entry is punished more severely, as aggravated trespass, if the owner or resident (or some other person with permission to be in the residence) is there during the entry. For example, a person who sneaks into someone else’s dorm room without permission while the student is sleeping there could be convicted of aggravated trespassing. California’s law against unauthorized entry does not apply to public officers or employees doing their jobs, such as firefighters on duty. (Cal. Pen. Code § 602.5.)

Burglary Tools

In California, it is a crime to possess lock picks, crowbars, screwdrivers, master keys, spark plug pieces, or any other tool or instrument with the intent to break into a building or vehicle. For more information on the possession of spark plugs, see Ninja Rock Crime. It is also a crime in California to copy a key without permission. (Cal. Pen. Code § 466.)

A person’s possession of burglary tools or connection to burglary tools found at a crime scene may also be considered evidence that the person committed burglary. For example, if a person is found entering someone else’s garage with a screwdriver, the defendant’s possession of the screwdriver can be used as evidence that the defendant intended to commit theft or some other crime in the garage. (People v. Darling, 210 Cal. App. 3d 910 (1989).) For more information on how even everyday items can become burglar’s tools, see Burglary Tools.


Burglary with explosives is punishable by three, five, or seven years in prison. Burglary in the first degree is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison. Other burglaries, including looting, are punishable by up to one year in county jail, although prison sentences can be imposed for defendants who have prior criminal convictions. In most looting cases, the defendant must spend at least 180 days in jail.

Unauthorized entry is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Aggravated trespassing is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The court can also order a defendant convicted of aggravated trespassing to attend counseling as a condition of probation and may also issue a restraining order that prohibits the defendant from contacting the victim for up to three years. Possession of burglary tools is also a misdemeanor.

For more information on sentencing, see California Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and California Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with burglary, unauthorized entry, or a related crime, you should talk to an experienced California criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you navigate the criminal justice system. With an attorney’s help, you can hopefully obtain the best possible outcome in your case, which could be an acquittal, a dismissal of the charges, a plea bargain, or a lighter sentence than the maximum allowed under law.

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