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The degrees of burglary in California

The legal terms burglary and robbery are often confused by people who don't work within the criminal justice system every day. There is a difference between the two terms. Robbery is a person-to-person crime, involving the use of force or the threat of force by one person to remove property from another person. Burglary is a crime by which the perpetrator enters a structure with the intent to commit a crime, usually theft. Both burglary and robbery are felonies.

However, in California, there are different degrees of burglary charges as well. If a person is arrested in California on a charge of burglary, the charge could be either first-degree burglary or second-degree burglary.

The major difference between these two levels of burglary charges is that first-degree burglary almost always involves allegations of the suspect breaking into a person's home or an occupied structure. This originates from the thought that it is a much more serious crime to invade a person's dwelling than it is to invade another area such as a commercial structure, like a warehouse or a factory. But, in California, the term dwelling has been interpreted quite broadly by the courts, with the defining attribute usually being whether or not the structure was in use or abandoned. If a structure is abandoned, that is when a charge of second-degree burglary is likely to come into play.

Regardless of whether the charge is for first or second-degree burglary, the consequence upon conviction could still be a lengthy term of imprisonment. There are a number of different defenses that a person could employ when charged with burglary, although the applicability of such defenses is very fact specific to each case.