Can Residential Burglary Happen If from Closet in Entryway?

In San Diego County, a juvenile (“M.A.”) entered a house with the owner’s permission without any intent to commit a felony therein.  While inside, he learned that there were guns in a closet and then decided to steal then.  The closet was three feet by four feet and in the home’s entry way, but not in the home’s interior.
Overview:  Juvenile commits first degree residential burglary by stealing guns from closet in entryway.
Without the owner’s permission, M.A. then took the guns from the closet.  He was later arrested and a juvenile petition was filed against him.

The juvenile court made a true finding on the petition that M.A. committed first degree residential burglary (Penal Code §§ 459 and 460) and grand theft of a firearm (Penal Code § 487(d)).

M.A. appealed the judgment, arguing that the evidence was insufficient, as a matter of law, to support a true finding that he committed first degree residential burglary.  His argument was that he did not enter the type of structure or space required for the commission of a burglary.

M.A. pointed to Penal Code § 459, which specifies that burglary is committed when, among other things, someone “enters any house, room, apartment . . . or other building … with intent to commit a larceny or felony.”  First degree burglary includes the element that the entry be of an “inhabited dwelling house” or other specified inhabited structures.  M.A. consequently argued on appeal that his entry into the closet was not entry into a room within the meaning of Penal Code § 459.

In People v. M.A., a Minor (2012 DJDAR 12959), the Fourth Appellate District evaluated M.A.’s argument.  It looked to People v. Sparks (2002) 28 Cal.4th 71, which had a comprehensive review of California’s burglary law.  Sparks discussed the meaning of the term “room” with the context of Penal Code § 458, nothing that it was broadly defined as it included even an enclosed “office area” set off by a waist-high counter two and a half feet wide in the lobby of a building. People v. Mackabee (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1250.

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Sparks also noted that another court (People v. Gayton (1940) 38 Cal. App. 3d 83) found a liquor and cigarette storage room of a café was a room.  It also noted that a closet is considered a room under Penal Code § 458. (People v. Garcia (1963) 214 Cal. App. 2d 681).

Sparks further indicated that the intent to commit burglary can be formed after the suspect enters the home.

Consequently, the Fourth Appellate District affirmed the lower court’s ruling and denied M.A.’S appeal.  The court commented that its ruling was consistent with the general intent of burglary laws, which is for personal safety of the home’s occupant’s and the threat of violence and harm from the burglar in attempting to perpetrate the crime or to escape.  In other words, M.A.’s act was not just trespass and grand theft.  Someone from inside the home might have been endangered due to the location of the theft.

For more information about burglary, click on the following articles:
  1. First Degree Residential Burglary Is a Crime of Violence under Immigration Laws
  2. Conviction for Accessory to Shoplifting and Burglary Has Lesson for Those Defending Such Charges
  3. Conviction Reversed for Burglary by Acetylene Torch at Best Buy
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