Overview: The California Supreme Court resolved an unsettled question of California criminal law involving burglary in the case of People v. Hugo Garcia, deciding that if a burglar enters into a structure with intent to commit a felony like robbery or rape, and then enters another room, that is not two burglaries unless the second room is locked or separate, like a hotel room in a hotel or dorm room or store in a center, even a locked room in a house.
Section 459 of the Penal Code provides that, “[e]very person who enters any house, room, …shop, warehouse, store,…or other building…with intent to commit… any felony is guilty of burglary.” Seems clear, right?
Burglary of Market
On May 18, 2011, victim “M” was working alone behind the counter at an Escondido store that provided food and other services for pregnant women and young children.
Hugo Garcia entered, pulled a gun out of his pocket, and directed M to close and lock the front door of the store. He then forced M into a bathroom in the back of the store, tied her hands with children’s hairbands and assaulted M repeatedly. Garcia drove away in M’s sports utility vehicle. He was captured and prosecuted.
74 Years to Life
Garcia was convicted of two counts of burglary, aggravated kidnapping (for moving from one room to another) and forceful rape, with various enhancements. He was sentenced to 74 years to life. Garcia appealed, arguing he should have only been convicted of one count of burglary. The Court of Appeal upheld both burglary convictions. The case went to the California Supreme Court.
One Burglary or Two?
Not that it makes any difference to Garcia who will be in prison for the rest of his miserable life, but his defense lawyers argued he should only have been convicted of one burglary, as he entered the store with intent to commit a felony (robbery and rape). One count of burglary.
The prosecutor argued that the Penal Code definition recites that every person “who enters any house, room,…store… or other building with intent to commit…a felony is guilty of burglary.” Garcia entered a store and he entered a room, in each instance with intent to commit a felony (burglary, then rape): Two burglary counts.
Relatively new Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar wrote there was only one burglary: “The Burglar may be charged with multiple burglaries only if the subsequently entered room provides a separate and objectively reasonable expectation of privacy from intrusion relative to the larger structure.” Breaking into a home or store and multiple rooms within the home or store is only one burglary. As the back bathroom was part of a larger store, one burglary.
The Court drew a distinction: Breaking into multiple stores in a shopping center or apartments in an apartment building or offices in an office building or separate student dormitory rooms or rooms in a hotel – each will result in multiple burglary counts.
Similarly, breaking into a home or store, then breaking the lock on an inside room allows a second burglary charge.
With this ruling, the Supreme Court clarified California law that a burglar may not be convicted of multiple burglaries for breaking into a house or store, then entering multiple unlocked interior rooms.
Garcia will have plenty of time to read the Court’s fine-line distinction.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or www.portersimon.com.
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