Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Burglary » Is It a Crime to Break Into an Unlocked Car in California?
It is not considered “breaking and entering” under the burglary laws of California for a person to enter an unlocked car.
However, if a person enters a car through an unlocked door without the owner’s consent, that person could be charged with tampering with a vehicle.
California Vehicle Code section 10852 VC states that no person shall, without the owner’s consent:
Tampering is defined as conduct interfering with the ownership of the vehicle. Thus, Vehicle Code 10852 makes it a crime to enter someone else’s vehicle, even if the car door is unlocked.
Tampering with a vehicle is a misdemeanor punishable by:
The more serious crime of auto burglary can only be charged under Penal Code 459 when a person enters a LOCKED VEHICLE with the:
Auto burglary is a “wobbler” under California law, which means that it may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If filed as a felony, the punishment could be up to:
If filed as a misdemeanor, the punishment could be up to:
Defenses to a charge of tampering with a vehicle or auto burglary may include:
It depends on the accused person’s intent, and their actions inside the vehicle.
A person who enters an unlocked vehicle without the owner’s consent may be accused of vehicle tampering because it interferes with, and is conduct inconsistent with, ownership of the vehicle. People v. Mooney (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 502.
Vehicle Code section 10852 states that no person shall, without the owner’s consent:
Please note that it is also a misdemeanor under Vehicle Code 10853 for a person to:
The crime of vehicle tampering can only be charged as a misdemeanor in California. The punishment is:
Please note that there are other charges that could be filed AFTER someone unlawfully enters an unlocked vehicle, depending on their actions. Those felonies could include:
Yes. A bill is currently pending in the California state senate (SB23) that would make it a new crime to:
Pleases note that SB23 does not specifically require LOCKED DOORS, but forcible entry of a vehicle. The required force could be any of the following:
According to California state legislators, the policy behind SB23 is:
This would prevent requiring victims, often tourists who live far away, to come to court to testify that they had locked the car doors.
The new crime proposed under SB23 would have the same punishment as auto burglary and could be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
There are various defenses to a charge of tampering with a vehicle or auto burglary. They include:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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