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Entry into a detached garage is not first degree burglary

Corona v. Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco (Cal. Ct. App., June 21, 2021, No. A161369) 2021 WL 2525651, at *1

Summary: San Francisco police arrested Corona after he entered a freestanding garage located on the same property as a house. The People charged him with first degree burglary, which applies to the burglary of “an inhabited dwelling house.” (Pen. Code, § 460, subd. (a).)

Corona argued that an uninhabited outbuilding, such as a detached garage, is not an inhabited dwelling house. The Court of Appeal agreed and found  Corona’s position was consistent with the text and legislative history and over six decades of case law, and our Legislature’s acquiescence in longstanding precedent.

The garage at issue faces the street. The house is behind the garage. The garage is detached from the house; an unroofed courtyard separates the two structures. To access the house from the garage, a visitor must exit the garage, walk across the courtyard, and enter the house through a separate, locked door. A visitor could also access the house without passing through the garage by walking through a locked gate to the side of the garage. At the time of the incident, the garage contained two vehicles, laundry machines, and other items (e.g., a bicycle, camp chairs, a rolled up rug) belonging to the residents.

Procedural background

Corona argued at his preliminary hearing that the first degree burglary charge was improper because the detached garage is not part of the house. Corona also made a motion under section 17, subdivision (b), requesting that the magistrate reduce the lesser included offense of second degree burglary to a misdemeanor. The magistrate concluded that the first degree burglary charge is supported by probable cause because “the garage was in fact part of the house.” The magistrate did not rule on the section 17, subdivision (b) motion.

Corona filed a motion under section 995 to set aside the burglary charge arguing  that there was  insufficient evidence to support the first degree burglary charge because he entered an uninhabited, detached garage. He asserted that the magistrate denied him a substantial right by refusing to rule on his section 17, subdivision (b) motion. The superior court denied Corona’s motion to set aside the first degree burglary charge and did not rule on the section 17, subdivision (b) issue.

Writ of prohibition

Corona filed a petition for writ of prohibition. Given the novel issue presented and the likelihood that it would recur, the court of appeal decided to address the issue in a published decision and  issued an order to show cause rather than an alternative writ because the latter procedure would have allowed the trial court to reverse the order, potentially making the issue moot. (Paul Blanco’s Good Car Co. Auto Group v. Superior Court (2020) 56 Cal.App.5th 86, 98-99, 270 Cal.Rptr.3d 164.)

Burglary of an uninhabited outbuilding is not first degree burglary

The court held that burglary of an uninhabited outbuilding, such as a detached garage, is not first degree burglary. In the definition of burglary (§ 459), the Legislature listed “house” separately from outbuildings, indicating that the Legislature did not consider an outbuilding  to be part of a house.

The  statutory history favors Corona’s position that the burglary of an uninhabited outbuilding is not first degree burglary of a dwelling house.

Case law also favors Corona. For decades, courts have consistently held that first degree burglary may apply when a burglar enters a structure attached to a residence but does not apply when a burglar enters a detached, uninhabited structure.

In the leading case, People v. Picaroni (1955) 131 Cal.App.2d 612, 281 P.2d 45 (Picaroni), the court held that burglary of a detached garage was burglary in the second degree. (Id. at pp. 617-618, 281 P.2d 45.) The court held  that because “the entry of the garage alone would not necessarily be an entry of the inhabited dwelling,” the burglary of the detached garage was not the same offense as the burglary of the dwelling house. (Id. at p. 618, 281 P.2d 45.) No court has questioned this holding.

Corona’s position is consistent with the policy underlying the first degree burglary statute. Section 460 increases the punishment for burglary of inhabited structures, in recognition of the need for people to feel safe where they live and the increased danger of confrontation when an intruder enters that space. (§ 460, subd. (a); see Cruz, supra, 13 Cal.4th at p. 775, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 117, 919 P.2d 731; People v. Trevino (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 120, 125, 203 Cal.Rptr.3d 909.) Courts interpret section 460 broadly to apply to many different types of structures where people live, permanently or temporarily, including hotel rooms (People v. Villalobos (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 310, 321, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 678), hospital rooms (People v. Fond (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 127, 131, 83 Cal.Rptr.2d 660), and second homes (People v. Hines (1989) 210 Cal.App.3d 945, 950, 259 Cal.Rptr. 128, disapproved on another ground by People v. Allen (1999) 21 Cal.4th 846, 863-866 & fn. 21, 89 Cal.Rptr.2d 279, 984 P.2d 486; see generally Cruz, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pp 776-777, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 117, 919 P.2d 731 [citing with approval cases that equate an “inhabited dwelling house” with a “residence” that people use as “ ‘sleeping quarters’ ”]). The People did not argue that the garage was inhabited.

The court issued a writ of prohibition issue restraining respondent superior court from taking any action on the charge of first degree burglary except to dismiss it.

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