Not Remotely a Burglary

Burglary tools

This case wedged its way into the California Supreme Court through the garage door.

When Christopher Magness opened a neighbor’s garage door with a remote control, then fled on foot after he was spotted, the question arose:  Did use of the remote qualify as “entering” a residence, to meet the standard for burglary of a residence?

There are enough residential burglaries that you’d think the issue of what constitutes “entry” would be resolved.  Not so.  The state Supreme Court had to refer to Blackstone’s Commentaries, a treatise on English common law dating back to the 1700s – well before garage door remotes.

Magness broke into a locked car parked in his neighbor’s driveway, took the garage door remote and opened the door.  We can imagine what was on his mind.  His neighbor Timothy Loop, whose garage was exposed, checked on the noise in time to see Magness run away.  Loop hopped on a bicycle and chased Magness the short distance to his house.  Loop called the cops.  A deputy arrested Magness and found the garage remote near the end of Loop’s driveway, where Magness had been standing.

In the unanimous opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that there was no entry, so no “completed” residential burglary, because Magness did not physically enter the garage.

Liu came to this conclusion despite saying, “It has long been settled that the slightest entry by any part of the body or an instrument is sufficient.”  He quoted Blackstone’s Commentaries: “As for the entry, any the least degree of it, with any part of the body, or with an instrument held in the hand, is sufficient: as, to step over the threshold, to put a hand or a hook in at a window to draw out goods, or a pistol to demand one’s money, are all of them burglarious entries.”

Liu brought the case up to date by noting that the requirement of a breaking “has long been eliminated” from California’s burglary statute.

“The line we adopt – something outside must go inside for an entry to occur – is simple, workable, and consistent with common sense,” Liu said.

As for the electronic remote as an instrument, Liu noted there is no “air space test,” ever since the Supreme Court decided that putting an ATM card into the ATM machine’s air space did not “violate the occupant’s possessory interest in the building.”

Whether or not Magness committed a breaking, he did not commit burglary, because he did not enter the residence, Liu said.  The Sacramento Superior Court must reduce the charge from burglary of an occupied residence to “attempted burglary.”

While that eases Magness’ legal troubles he still has to face a separate charge of auto burglary for allegedly breaking into the car to get the remote.  And then there is the touchy issue of neighborhood relations.

Case: Magness v. Superior Court, No. S194928


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s