California “Commercial Burglary” Laws – Penal Code 459 PC

In California, commercial burglary is defined under penal code 459 pc as the entry into any building structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft crime therein. What sets commercial burglary apart from residential burglary is that the structure entered was commercial, a broadly defined term – e.g., store, storage unit, buildings, etc. Aside from the structural characteristic, residential burglary and commercial burglary are closely alike only the consequences for commercial burglary are less severe. Ordinarily, a skilled criminal defense attorney can reduce a commercial burglary charge to simple petty theft thereby allowing the defendant to participate in a diversion programs and obtain a dismissal upon successful completion of the diversion program.

Elements to Commercial Burglary

In order for someone to be found guilty of commercial burglary, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Defendant entered a commercial structure
  2. Defendant intended to commit a felony or theft crime prior to entry

What is the Punishment for Commercial Burglary?

Commercial burglary is categorized as a “wobbler” offense, which means the prosecutor has discretion to file commercial burglary charges as a felony or a misdemeanor. After the passage of Proposition 47, if the theft or attempted theft was $950 or less and the crime was committed during normal business hours, then the crime is a misdemeanor. If convicted of commercial burglary as a misdemeanor, one faces a maximum of one year in the county jail. If convicted of commercial burglary as a felony, sentencing ranges from 16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison. A felony convicted may be reduced to misdemeanor at a later point upon successful completion of probation pursuant to P.C. 17(b).

Example of Commercial Burglary

Bob walk into grocery store to buy some groceries for dinner. While shopping, Bob grabs a candy bar and places it in his pocket. Bob pays for all his groceries but intentionally omits paying for the candy bar in his pocket. Bob leaves the store and while walking to his car he’s picked up by store security. In this case, Bob will not be guilty of commercial burglary because Bob harbored the intentions to commit a theft after entering the store. Had Bob intended to commit a theft prior to entering the store, Bob would then be guilty of commercial burglary.

What are the Legal Defenses to Commercial Burglary?

If a defendant did not harbor the requisite intent to commit a crime at the moment or prior to entry, the defendant is not guilty of commercial burglary. Additionally, the prosecution must prove that there was physical entry, an element of the offense that is not often easy to prove. Furthermore, if the theft was carried out on accident, as it was not intentional, then one is not guilty of commercial burglary or one had a good-faith claim of right to the item taken.

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one has been arrested, charged, or is under investigation for commercial burglary, contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.