Houman Fakhimi

Orange County Residential Burglary Rings Grab Police Attention

The news of numerous burglary rings in Southern California in recent months has led local officials to form a "Residential Burglary Team."

Fullerton Criminal Defense Attorney Houman Fakhimi understands that these teams, so far based solely in the Cerritos Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, will be working closely with Orange County Sheriff's deputies to hone in on suspected thieves who target dwellings.

A press release from the Cerritos station indicates the team was formed in response to a flood of daytime home burglaries in the city, and as such, sworn patrol team members will be focusing on preventing and apprehending these incidents.

In its first week of operation, the team arrested two men on residential burglary charges, while another Orange County man was charged with possession of stolen property in connection with that incident. He was later reportedly linked to 15 other home burglaries in the area.

Meanwhile, sheriff's deputies in Orange County are trying to locate more suspects in a series of home and vehicle burglaries in Fullerton. Investigators believe the thefts totaled $100,000, though they were only able to recover a fraction of that, following the arrests of two young men in their 20s. Detectives are continuing to search for additional victims.

At the same time, investigators with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Major Crimes Bureau arrested four men believed to have broken into the homes of approximately 100 subscribers to the L.A. Times over the last three years, heisting a total of more than $1 million in property. Most of those incidents reportedly occurred in eastern L.A. and western San Bernardino counties. The men were reportedly somehow able to obtain information regarding subscribers who sent vacation holds to the paper - ensuring they would not be home when the burglars reportedly struck. (The paper has since stopped sharing vacation information with distributors, which reportedly led to the loophole.)

In addition to artwork, musical instruments, cash, electronics and jewelry, the suspects also reportedly took a number of vehicles as well.

In cases like this, we often solely hear references to the burglary aspect, but in the courtroom, we're almost always talking about two separate crimes: burglary and theft. There are specific elements required for prosecutors to prove each one.

Burglary is defined in California Penal Code 459, and is simply the entering of a structure with the intent to commit either a felony or petty theft once inside. California Penal Code 460 breaks it down a bit further, explaining that first-degree burglary (always a felony) is most commonly going to be residential burglaries, or those carried out in a place where someone lives or sleeps. Second-degree felony is the less serious of the two, and is usually charged when the crime is against a business or other establishment.

It's important to note that felony burglary actually counts as a strike under California's three strikes laws - even if you were never violent or confronted anyone at all in the process.

Theft, meanwhile, is charged according to the value of what was stolen and how it was done. So petty theft - which is anything under $950 - is going to be a misdemeanor. However, this could well be bumped up to a felony in cases of a burglary ring where such acts were regularly repeated, as a second or subsequent offense may be charged as a higher-level crime.

Additionally, theft of a gun or any vehicle is going to be a felony - regardless of value.

In cases of organized crime rings, in which multiple people conspired to carry out the thefts, you may potentially even be looking at federal RICO charges.

It's extremely important for each defendant to secure his own experienced attorney. What you often want to see happen is to have your attorney be the first or among the first to attempt to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce or drop most of the charges or some of the most serious charges. Alternatively, if you are in fact innocent, you will want someone who can get to work right away in collecting all the information to prove it, or at least lay a strong foundation of reasonable doubt.