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In Re M.A., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. M.A.

September 13, 2012

IN RE M.A., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW. THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
M.A., A MINOR, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Carolyn M. Caietti and Dwayne K. Moring, Judges. (Super. Ct. No. J229609)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irion, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

The juvenile court made a true finding on a petition filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 that M.A. committed first degree burglary (Pen. Code, §§ 459, 460)*fn1 and grand theft of a firearm (§ 487, subd. (d)), based on M.A.'s act of taking guns from a closet located in a house into which he initially entered without the intention of committing a crime. M.A. appeals from the judgment, contending that the evidence was insufficient, as a matter of law, to support a true finding that he committed first degree burglary.

I FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts relevant to M.A.'s appeal are brief and undisputed. M.A. entered a house with the permission of the occupant. At the time he entered the house, M.A. did not intend to commit a felony, but while inside M.A. learned that there were guns in the house, and he decided to take some of them. To this end, without obtaining permission, M.A. opened a closet and stole guns. The closet was three and half by four feet, and was located in the home's entryway, just inside the front door. The guns were inside an open safe in the entryway closet.

Based on these facts, the juvenile court made a true finding that M.A. committed grand theft of a firearm and first degree burglary by opening the closet and taking the firearms. M.A. was adjudged to be a ward of the court and was committed to the Breaking Cycles program for a period not to exceed 150 days.

II DISCUSSION

A. Entry into a Closet in a Residence Constitutes Entry into a Room for the Purposes of the Burglary Statute

M.A. contends that, as a matter of law, the undisputed facts do not support a true finding that he committed first degree burglary. He asserts that even though it is undisputed that, with the intent to steal the guns, he opened the entryway closet without being invited to do so, he did not commit burglary because he did not enter the type of structure or space required for the commission of a burglary.

We begin with an overview of the law of burglary. Under section 459, a burglary is committed when, among other things, someone "enters any house, room, apartment, . . . store, . . . or other building . . . with intent to commit . . . larceny or any felony." As relevant here, first degree burglary includes the additional element that the burglary was of an "inhabited dwelling house" or other enumerated inhabited structures. (§ 460.)

The main question presented by this appeal is whether entry into the closet at issue here constitutes entry into a "room" within the meaning of section 459. Our resolution of that issue necessarily turns to a great extent on our Supreme Court's discussion in People v. Sparks (2002) 28 Cal.4th 71 (Sparks).

In Sparks, our Supreme Court comprehensively reviewed the history of our state's burglary laws, and more specifically, explored the meaning of the term "room" in section 459. Sparks observed that the case law defining the term "room" began with the opinion in People v. Young (1884) 65 Cal. 225, in which a railway station ticket office -- with walls that did not reach all the way to the ceiling -- was considered a room for the purposes of the burglary statute. (Sparks, supra, 28 Cal.4th at pp. 79-80.) Since then, case law has broadly defined the concept of a room. (Id. at pp. 80-81.) In the most relevant of those cases for our purposes, burglary of a room was committed based on the defendant's entry "into an enclosed 'office area' set off by 'a waist-high counter about two and one-half feet wide' in the lobby of a building otherwise open to the public" (id. at pp. 80-81, citing People v. Mackabee (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1250 (Mackabee)); "entry into enclosed storage cage within a liquor store" (Sparks, at p. 81, citing People v. Garcia (1963) 214 Cal.App.2d 681 (Garcia)); and "entry into storage room of cafe" (Sparks, at p. 81, citing People v. Gaytan (1940) 38 Cal.App.2d 83 (Gaytan)). After reviewing the applicable precedent and noting the "personal security concerns of the burglary statute" (Sparks, at p. 87), Sparks concluded that "a defendant's entry into a bedroom within a single-family house with the requisite intent can support a burglary conviction if that intent was formed only after the defendant's entry into the house," because entry into the bedroom constitutes entry into a separate room for the purposes of section 459. (Sparks, at p. 73.)

Sparks is relevant to this case for two reasons. First, it establishes that, as occurred here, a burglary is committed even when the defendant first forms the intent to enter a room inside a home to commit a felony only after he has already entered the house without any felonious intent. Second, as we will explain, although Sparks does not expressly decide that entry into a closet should be considered ...


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