PJDC’s Arthur Bowie Wins California Supreme Court Burglary Case

PJDC’s own Arthur Bowie is victorious in Magness v. Super. Court, S194928, in which the California Supreme Court holds that using a remote control to open a garage door does not constitute an entry into the residence for purposes of burglary. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on June 7, 2012:


Bob Egelko

Applying a centuries-old criminal law to the electronic age, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that residential burglary – entering a home with felonious intent – is not committed by someone who is arrested after using a remote control to open a garage door.

Although the suspect may have intended to break into the home, “he did not commit burglary because he did not enter the residence. Nothing penetrated the outer boundary,” said Justice Goodwin Liu in the unanimous ruling.

That means Christopher Magness, jailed since his arrest in July 2010 outside a Sacramento home, can be convicted only of attempted burglary, punishable by up to three years in prison, said his lawyer, Arthur Bowie, an assistant county public defender.

Residential burglary is punishable by up to six years. Magness’ sentence could be doubled because he has a previous felony conviction covered by the state’s three-strikes law.

The court said a homeowner heard the door opening, ran into the garage and saw Magness standing outside. He chased Magness on a bicycle and then called sheriff’s deputies, who arrested Magness. On the driveway they found the remote control, which he had apparently taken from the owner’s car by peeling away a door seal and reaching inside, the court said.

Prosecutors charged Magness with burglary, relying on a case in which a would-be assailant kicked in the door of a man’s home but never went inside. A state appeals court ruled in 2007 that burglary had been committed because the door was an “instrument” under the defendant’s control and was used to enter the home.

That reasoning was flawed, the state’s high court said Thursday. Burglary, Liu said, requires either a physical entry into the home – possibly by the foot that kicks in the door – or some instrument or tool that crosses the threshold, like a drill through a wall or a tire iron that pries the door open.

“Something that is outside must go inside for an entry to occur,” Liu said. He said Magness’ alleged actions were comparable to those of a would-be intruder who slid open an unlocked glass door but was arrested before entering.

Bowie said the ruling made sense. By charging the more serious crime only after physical entry, the defense lawyer said, “you’re giving perpetrators pause to think about what they’re doing.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office was disappointed by the ruling, said spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill

The ruling in Magness vs. Superior Court, S194928, can be viewed at http:// sfg.ly/KBICgz.