On any given summer weekend, it’s possible to drive around suburban neighborhoods and see realtor signs out on the sidewalk. It’s a known fact: Realtors hold open houses. These open houses can be a great opportunity for buyers of real estate to check out a neighborhood, check out a potential new home, or even check out a realtor. No appointment is necessary – all you have to do is get in a car, find an area you like and start driving. If you’re lucky, you might even score some refreshments.
The history of theft, fraud, and abuse is as old as mankind. Stories of theft, fraud and abuse go all the way back to the earliest recorded histories. So it’s no surprise that sometimes people come up with new ways of doing an old thing – which is trying to get something for nothing; an effort to get something without working for it and without paying for it. The problem is, people who try to make a fast buck illegally often underestimate the true costs of such activities – the emotional drain they experience from working outside the law, the risk and fear of getting caught, always looking over their shoulder, and then ultimately the consequences if and when they do get caught. It’s just bad every which way.
In the old days, Burglary was sometimes defined as breaking and entering into another’s dwelling at night with the intent to commit a felony. The modern law is usually not so limited. Burglary is no longer usually limited to an entry at night, and Burglary is generally no longer limited to entry into residential properties. Therefore, an unauthorized entry into a commercial property with an intent to commit any larceny (i.e. theft) or with an intent to commit any felony can qualify as burglary. Most people probably think of a burglar as someone who unlawfully enters into a property with the intent to steal something. This might be the most common result of burglary – a theft of something — but a burglary can also exist where there’s an intent to commit any felony.
Differing degrees of burglary exist. First degree burglary generally includes burglary of an inhabited dwelling house, or an inhabited floating home, or an inhabited trailer coach, or the portion of any building which is inhabited. Second degree burglary is any burglary which is not first degree burglary. There’s a long history in the development of the law concerning burglary. These definitions aren’t the full story concerning burglary – but they are a starting point.
It seems that in June of 2010, a realtor was holding an open house in California. Two individuals attended the open house. Once inside the property being shown, the individuals split up. One of the individuals spoke with the realtor for several minutes, and the other disappeared for a few minutes inside the property.
After the individuals left the house, the realtor realized her wallet was missing. Her wallet contained several credit cards, a gift certificate, and a lottery ticket. The realtor looked about the property and her car for her wallet, and contacted her roommate at home to see if she had left the purse at home. She couldn’t locate the wallet, and so she called the police.
An on-duty police Sergeant heard the radio dispatch about the stolen wallet while he was out working in the field. He spotted a pickup truck that matched the description from the dispatch. He made a traffic stop, searched the pickup truck and found the realtor’s credit cards in between the seats. The realtor made a positive identification of the persons in the pickup truck.
One of the suspects was charged, and after trial was convicted, of first degree residential burglary, second degree commercial burglary and fraudulently using an access card. On appeal, this individual claimed, among other things, that he was not guilty of first degree residential burglary because the occupants of the house were not present at the home at the time he was there. He argued that first degree burglary can only exist for a dwelling which is occupied, and that because the residents weren’t there at the time of the open house, the property wasn’t “inhabited.”
The court of appeal disagreed, and found that the property was “inhabited” but that the occupants were “temporarily absent” at the time of the open house. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment of conviction.
The single theft of the wallet from inside a residential property resulted in the individual being convicted of three crimes, one of which was first degree residential burglary. It was a high price to pay for stealing a wallet. The defendant was sentenced to 21 years and 4 months.
The case is reported as People v. Little (2012) DJDAR 7965.
This article only summarizes some of the main points of this case. The complete facts and law involved in this case are more detailed and complex than those summarized here. Nothing in this article should be relied on in any specific situation, because the considerations in any specific situation may require different considerations or may provide a different result. Persons with questions or issues concerning the legal issues raised in this column should consult competent legal counsel.