What’s the difference between theft and burglary in California?

Most people think that theft and burglary are synonymous, but that’s far from the truth.  On big difference is in the sentencing: petty theft such as shoplifting $950 or less of merchandise is a misdemeanor and carries a sentence of up to six months in jail.  Burglary can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony with up to a year of jail time for the former and up to three years for the latter.

So what’s the difference between theft and burglary in California then?  It comes down to intent.

Let’s say you walk into a Best Buy, and for some reason they’ve got boxes of PS4’s laying around.  If you suddenly decide, “Hey, I really want one of those and this would be a good opportunity to stuff one under my jacket and bolt,” you’d be guilty of petty theft.

If, however, you went to the store with the intent to steal that same new Sony gaming system, that would be burglary.

How can someone know if you intended to steal something or not though?

When you’re caught, the first thing loss prevention or Levitra security people will do is try to get you to confessing to burglary.  While a lot of them will just try to get an oral confession out of you, some places have pre-filled forms ready for you to sign.  Be very careful of this, as you could unknowingly be signing away a few years of your life.

Even if you get caught and don’t confess, the prosecutor will look at the circumstances around the shoplifting to try to determine your intent.  Were you seen on video casing the joint?  Were you wearing a coat and pants in the California summer?  Did you walk into the store with empty bags?

Oftentimes, even when there is no evidence of burglary, a prosecutor might tack it on in order to try to lower the charge to theft in a guilty plea.

If you’ve been caught and charged with theft or burglary in the San Diego area, make sure to talk to the lawyers at Seneca Law Group.  We’ll make sure you know your rights and options to make sure you receive a fair trial  Call us at (619) 630-8529.

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