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California Supreme Court rules for defendant in burglary case

Posted on June 27, 2012 in Shoplifting, Robbery & Burglary

Roughly two years ago deputies arrested a Sacramento man on suspicion of burglary. Before trial, the case boiled up through the appellate courts. The man's criminal defense lawyer argued that the man could not be charged with a completed burglary because there was no evidence the man ever entered the building. The trial court disagreed, and reportedly bound the accused over for trial.

An appellate court later handed down a split decision reversing the trial court ruling. The California Supreme Court has now unanimously agreed that prosecutors cannot proceed with burglary charges against the Sacramento area man.

The case arose from allegations arising on July 24, 2010. Law enforcement claims that the man had stood on a driveway and used a remote control to open a garage door. The homeowner claims to have heard the garage open and ran into the garage. He says that he saw a man standing in the driveway who then ran away from the home.

The homeowner claims that he got on a bike and followed the man who had allegedly been standing in the driveway. Deputies later arrested a Sacramento County man who they claim had been in the driveway.

Law enforcement found the garage door remote control in the homeowner's driveway. Prosecutors claim that the remote had been taken from a car parked in the driveway. Prosecutors argued that the man had committed a burglary by using the remote control to open the garage. The defense countered that the charges must be dismissed because there was no evidence that the man had ever entered the building.

The state was attempting to pursue burglary charges on the theory that the man had entered the residence with the intent to commit a felony. Prosecutors pointed to a 2007 appellate decision in a burglary case that alleged a man kicked in the door to a residence without later entering the building. The prior appellate court decision found that the door had been an "instrument" that the accused had used to enter the home.

The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the prosecutors could not pursue charges for a completed burglary in the most recent case. The high court unanimously found that the prosecutor's reasoning was flawed in seeking completed burglary charges. The state Supreme Court said that no tool, nor the man's foot, entered the building, based upon the prosecutor's allegations in the 2010 burglary case.

The court said in the written opinion, "Something that is outside must go inside for an entry to occur." The California Supreme Court ruling limits prosecutors to attempted burglary charges in the case.

Generally, a California burglary charge is punishable by up to six years in prison. An attempted burglary charge can bring a three year sentence upon conviction. The man who had appealed the trial court ruling could have had his potential exposure to six years of prison time on the completed burglary charge doubled under California's three strikes law based upon a prior qualifying felony conviction, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The case has never gone to trial and no guilty plea has been entered. The accused remains innocent in the eyes of the law. The high court ruling in the criminal appeal significantly reduces the man's potential exposure to prison if a conviction is ever obtained by the prosecutors.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "California Supreme Court ruling on home burglary," Bob Egelko, June 8, 2012

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