Monday, August 03, 2009

People v. Thorn (Cal. Ct. App. - July 31, 2009)

I've always found the breadth of California's definition of "burglary" problematic. At common law, it used to be that burglary was the breaking and entering of a dwelling place at nighttime. Nowadays, however, it seems like going anywhere, at any time, counts as burglary as long as you're planning on performing mischief therein.

The question is whether someone who steals a stereo in the carport of an apartment complex is guilty of burglary. The carport at issue is one that's familiar to anyone who's lived in cheaper apartments in our Great State: the carports consist of a line of open-ended stalls on the first floor of the apartment complex easily accessible to the street. Justice Jenkins ("Go Seahawks!") concludes that even though pretty much anyone could drive into the carports, their proximity to the inhabited apartments above and their other characteristics satisfies the requirements for a burglary conviction.

This holding seems to me to stretch even California's expansive definition of burglary. That said, I'm certainly not going to say it's unreasonable given California precedent. If it were me, I'd hardly be inclined to find that entry into an open-ended carport really entails the type of dangers that the Legislature intended when it prohibited burglary. And to say that the dangers of an unauthorized entry into a carport are akin to the dangers of an unauthorized entry into, say, a bedroom seems flatly wrong; to me, there is a qualitative -- not merely quantitative -- difference between the two.

But I say all of that as reasoning by first principles. There's a fair piece about California's burglary precedent that seems misguided to me. That this opinion merely adds thereto is hardly a slam on Justice Jenkins.

P.S. - I can, however, say this. Justice Jenkins is from San Francisco, and as far as I can tell grew up there. Which leads me to wonder who from The Old Country (read: England) drafted the opinion, which in multiple places refers to various two- and four-"storey" buildings. That's not the way we roll in the New World, buddy. Best leave that at home before we all start seeing "colour" everywhere and breaking every afternoon for tea.