There’s no denying that car theft is a serious problem. In 2019, 151,244 cars were reported stolen in California. That adds up to a car being stolen every 3.5 minutes. The estimated overall value of these thefts is approximately $1.2 billion.
Given the toll auto thefts take on law enforcement resources and the economy, it’s not surprising that California lawmakers have developed a hard stance on auto thefts and auto burglary.
The interesting thing about auto burglary in California is that it’s not the same thing as straight-up auto theft, though the two charges are often linked.
The state of California defines auto burglary as the act of gaining entrance into a locked vehicle with the express intention of stealing either the vehicle or the contents of the vehicle. Depending on the value of the vehicle or the items stolen from the vehicle, the case could be handled as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
To help clarify the difference between auto burglary and auto theft, California lawmakers included auto burglary in California Penal Code 459 PC. It clearly lays out the state’s parameters for auto burglary.
“Every person who enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, floating home, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code, railroad car, locked or sealed cargo container, whether or not mounted on a vehicle, trailer coach, as defined in Section 635 of the Vehicle Code, any house car, as defined in Section 362 of the Vehicle Code, inhabited camper, as defined in Section 243 of the Vehicle Code, vehicle as defined by the Vehicle Code, when the doors are locked, aircraft as defined by Section 21012 of the Public Utilities Code, or mine or any underground portion thereof, with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary.”
A guilty conviction for misdemeanor auto burglary involves a maximum sentence of a year in county jail. A guilty conviction for felony auto burglary in California involves a maximum sentence of 16 months to three years in state prison. If the car is actually moved and not simply entered, it’s highly likely that auto theft charges will be added to the auto burglary charges.