Today, we will discuss auto burglary.  Auto burglary is on the rise.  We are always reminded to lock our vehicles, hide our valuables from sight, and better yet, store our valuables in the trunk.  Whenever we park, be it at the mall, or court, or underground, we see signs that remind us of this.  Some heed the warning, and yet some do not a become victims of auto burglary.  Auto burglary can even occur at your residence parking area.  To combat auto burglary, cameras have been installed to deter would be criminals.  Yet, they commit the crime anyway.  Sometimes it is addicts who break into vehicles to fence for money to buy drugs.  Other times, it is a professional criminals involved in a crime wave of auto burglaries.

What is Auto Burglary?

Auto burglary is defined under California Penal Code 459 as: 1) entering any vehicle when there is evidence of forced entry

2) with the intent to commit grand or petty larceny or any felony.

Auto burglary is burglary in the second degree.  This means that auto burglary is not a strike.  Auto burglary is also a wobbler.  In other words, it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of what was stolen.  If the total value of what is stolen is less than $950, then it is a misdemeanor.  If it exceeds the value of $950, it is a felony.

California Auto Burglary Law Definitions

In order to better understand what auto burglary is, one must first understand the legal definitions.


In order to be auto burglary, obviously, the crime must involve a vehicle.  What is considered a vehicle for purposes of PC 459?

Under California Vehicle Code Section 670, a vehicle is defined as a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, except a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks. Automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, electric cars, and other devices applicable to this definition are considered vehicles for purposes of California law. Bicycles, train cars, scooters, skateboards, and other non-motorized devices which are not allowed on highways are not considered vehicles.

Breaking into motor homes and/or RVs is considered a more severe crime and burglary in the first degree (which, by the way, is a strike).

Vehicle must be Locked to be Considered Auto Burglary

In order to be considered auto burglary in California, a vehicle must be locked – Under California law, a vehicle is locked when there is evidence of forced entry. Thus, there must be evidence of forced entry for an act to be considered auto burglary.

So what if the vehicle is not locked?  Then the crime committed is grand or petty larceny, not auto burglary.

— What makes PC 459 a Felony or Misdemeanor?


If the value of the items stolen exceed $950, PC 459 will be a Felony (Grand larceny)


If the value of the items stolen do not exceed $950, then it is a misdemeanor (Petty larceny).

Other Offenses Related to Auto Burglary

Grand larceny and petty larceny, although used to determine if one will be prosecuted under Felony PC 459 or misdemeanor PC 459, are also crimes in and of themselves.

Grand larceny – Under the California Penal Code Section 487, grand larceny (or grand theft) is committed when the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value exceeding $950. Grand larceny is also committed when the property taken is an automobile (see PC 487(d)(1)). If you enter a vehicle with the intent to steal it, you may be charged with grand larceny in addition to auto burglary.

Petty larceny – Under PC 490, petty larceny (or petty theft) is generally when the value of the money, labor, real or personal property taken does not exceed $950. If you enter a vehicle with the intent to steal a wallet with up to $950 inside it, you may be charged with petty larceny in addition to auto burglary.

What happens if a defendant is unsuccessful in committing auto burglary?

Attempted Burglary. Under PC 663, if you do not satisfy all of the elements of burglary, you may still be charged with attempted burglary if you had criminal intent.

Tampering With a Vehicle. Under the California Vehicle Code 10852, you may be charged with tampering with a vehicle if you willfully injure or tamper with any vehicle or the contents thereof or break or remove any part of a vehicle without the consent of the owner.

Penalties for PC 459

PC 460(b) defines auto burglary as burglary of the second degree, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Pursuant to PC 461(b), if you are convicted of misdemeanor second degree burglary, you may be punished by imprisonment in county jail for a maximum of 364 days. However, if you are convicted of felony second degree burglary, you face a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in county jail (see PC 1170(h)).

How is Auto Burglary Prosecuted?

The prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You entered a locked vehicle; AND
  2. When you entered the locked vehicle, you intended to commit theft or one or more felonies


Auto burglary is a specific intent crime.  If you had no intent to commit theft or other felonies when you broke into a vehicle, then it is not considered auto burglary.

Also, if the vehicle was unlocked, then it is not considered auto burglary, but instead grand larceny or petty larceny, which are lesser offenses.


In a nutshell, this is what California Auto Burglary is.  If you or someone you know is being charged with auto burglary, we can help.  Call us today for a free consultation!

–Philip Cho





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