California Penal Code Section 459 Burglary Elements

Statutory burglary in California, defined in section 459, vastly expands upon the common law definition, which limited the crime to the "breaking and entering of a dwelling in the nighttime." (People v. Davis (1998) 18 Cal. 4th 712, 720 [76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 770, 958 P.2d 1083].) In contrast, in California, "there is no requirement of a breaking; an entry alone is sufficient. the crime is not limited to dwellings, but includes entry into a wide variety of structures. the crime need not be committed at night." (Id. at pp. 720-721.) Section 459, in pertinent part, states the elements of burglary as follows: "Every person who enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building . . . with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary..." Section 460, in turn, divides the offense of burglary into two degrees based upon whether the structure entered was "inhabited": "(a) Every burglary of an inhabited dwelling house, . . . or the inhabited portion of any other building, is burglary of the first degree. (b) All other kinds of burglary are of the second degree." Accordingly, section 459 defines the entry into "any . . . room" with larcenous or felonious intent as a burglary. Thus, the plain language of the statute supports the trial court's instruction that entry into each room with the requisite intent constitutes a separate burglary. And ordinarily, the words of a statute "provide the most reliable indicator of legislative intent." (Hsu v. Abbara (1995) 9 Cal. 4th 863, 871 [39 Cal. Rptr. 2d 824, 891 P.2d 804].) Further, the use of the word, "room," in the burglary statute was intended to broaden the definition of burglary, not constrict it. As the California Supreme Court in People v. Stickman (1867) 34 Cal. 242, 245 (Stickman), explained, the Legislature amended the statute in 1858 to replace the words " 'any dwelling house, or any house whatever' " with the "words 'any house, room, apartment or tenement.' "The amendment "was not made for the purpose of narrowing the previous definition, but with the intent to leave it as broad as at first and to meet the doctrine advanced by some cases, that an entry into an unoccupied room or apartment of a dwelling house was not a burglary." (Ibid.) The Supreme Court in Stickman went on to say, in a famous passage, that the language of the statute "could not well be made more comprehensive, and we think the absence of more particular terms of description indicates an intention, on the part of the Legislature, to include every kind of buildings or structures 'housed in' or roofed, regardless of the fact whether they are at the time, or ever have been, inhabited by members of the human family." (Ibid.)