Law School Case Brief
People v. Davis - 18 Cal. 4th 712, 76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 770, 958 P.2d 1083 (1998)
Burglary (Cal. Pen. Code, § 459) requires an entry that invades a possessory right in a building. Burglary laws are based primarily upon a recognition of the dangers to personal safety created by the usual burglary situation—the danger that the intruder will harm the occupants in attempting to perpetrate the intended crime or to escape, and the danger that the occupants will in anger or panic react violently to the invasion, thereby inviting more violence. The laws are primarily designed not to deter the trespass and the intended crime, which are prohibited by other laws, so much as to forestall the germination of a situation dangerous to personal safety.
Defendant Michael Wayne Davis approached the walk-up window of a check-cashing business named the Cash Box and presented a check to the teller by placing the check in a chute in the window. The check was drawn on the account of Robert and Joan Tallman. The teller telephoned Robert Tallman, who denied having written the check. Tallman later discovered that a group of checks, including the given to him by Davis, had been stolen. Tallman called the police. An officer arrived within minutes and arrested DAVIS. After trial in California state court, Davis was convicted of forgery, under Cal. Penal Code § 470, receiving stolen property, under Cal. Penal Code § 469(c), and burglary, under Cal. Penal Code § 459, based upon evidence that he presented a stolen and forged check to the teller. On Davis' appeal, the court of appeal affirmed. Davis appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction for burglary.
Did Davis commit burglary when he presented a stolen and forged check to the teller by placing the check in a chute in a walk-up window?
The Supreme Court of California reversed the judgment of the court of appeal to the extent it affirmed Davis' conviction for burglary, and it affirmed the court of appeal's judgment in all other respects. The court agreed with Davis that the burglary conviction had to be reversed because he did not enter the check-cashing facility. The court noted that the crucial issue was whether Davis' conduct was the type of "entry" the burglary statute was intended to prevent. The court looked to the interest sought to be protected by the burglary statute in general and the requirement of an entry in particular. Based on a review of the history of the offense of burglary, the court noted that the underlying basis for the criminal sanction of burglary was the danger caused by the unauthorized entry itself. The court held that the act of Davis placing a forged check into a chute in the window of a check-cashing facility was not using an instrument to affect an entry within the meaning of the burglary statute because it did not violate the occupant's possessory interest in the building.
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