Yes, it is a crime to look through the glove box of a car, even if you
didn't actually steal the automobile. Suppose you're walking down
the street and you lift the door handle of a nearby vehicle. The car is
unlocked, so you decide to look inside to see what kind of stuff the owner
has. While doing this, a cop stops you and places you under arrest under
suspicion of tampering with an automobile.
California Law Prohibiting Going through Someone Else’s Car
The statute specifically concerned with going through the contents of an
California Vehicle Code 10852 VC. However, it's not just going through the glove box or looking around
the floors that is unlawful.
The following acts are considered illegal, whether you’re acting
alone or with someone else:
- Willfully injuring or tampering with the vehicle or its contents,
- Breaking any part of the car, or
- Removing any part of the car
For you to be prosecuted under this law, the State must prove that you
didn't have the owner's consent to engage in whatever action you did.
For example, say your friend Barry needed to get his cell phone out of
his car because he was waiting to receive an urgent phone call. However,
at the moment, Barry's hands were full because he was helping a neighbor
bring in groceries. He asked you to go to his car to get the phone. In
this case, your actions would not be considered illegal because you had
However, suppose Barry wasn't your friend, and you saw his car on the
street. You liked the license plate frame because it had an interesting
quote on it. You decided you want the frame and took it without Barry's
permission. That is considered tampering with an automobile.
How Is This Offense Different from Auto Burglary?
California has another law on the books that prohibits going through someone's
car without their consent. This law is known as auto
burglary, and it specifically states that it is illegal to enter a vehicle, when
the doors are locked. It's distinct from the tampering with an automobile
law in that the conduct is considered unlawful when the intention was
grand theft, or any other felony offense.
What that means is if you broke a window or somehow jimmied the lock on
a car to steal the contents of the glove box, you're committing an
offense. Whether or not you actually took the items is not a defense to
this statute. As long as the intent was there, your conduct was illegal.
Breaking into a car with the intent to steal something or commit a felony
is considered burglary in the second degree, and it is charged as a misdemeanor
or felony. Depending on the level of offense, a conviction could carry
imprisonment for up to 1 year (for a misdemeanor) or 16 months, 2 years,
or 3 years for a felony).
Have you been charged with a
theft crime in Santa Barbara? If so, get the aggressive defense you need by calling
Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or
contacting us online.