Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Breaking the Plane" in Burglary Cases

Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down its decision in State v. Beauchamp/Jones, No. 108355, 108350 cons., slip op. (February 3, 2011), where the court held that a defendant "enters" a vehicle under Illinois' burglary statute when he "breaks the plane" of the vehicle.

In Beauchamp, a woman was returning to her car in a Metra station parking lot, where she saw a man standing two feet from her car. Id. at 2. Upon closer inspection, the woman discovered that the lock on the rear hatchback window had been "'punched out'" and that the hatchback window was missing. Id. Thinking that someone was trying to steal her car, she crossed the street to a fire station and approached a police officer with what she observed. Id. An officer then pulled up to the defendant's car, which had been parked next to the woman's car, and noticed a "4 feet by 3 to 3 1/2 feet window" in the rear seat of the defendant's car. Id. at 3. The officer "observed that the window in the rear door of the SUV was missing, one hydraulic arm was on the ground, the other arm was dangling from the vehicle, and the rear door lock was 'punched.'" Beauchamp, No. 108355, slip op. at 3.

The defendants "were charged by indictment with burglary in that they, without authority, knowingly entered a motor vehicle with the intent to commit a theft therein" in violation of 720 ILCS 5/19-1(a) (West 2006). Id. at 2. After testimony from the woman and the officer, the State rested, and defendant "moved for a directed finding of not guilty, arguing that the State had failed to prove an essential element of the offense of burglary: an 'entry' into the vehicle." Id. at 3. The trial court found the defendants guilty, and sentenced them to prison for terms of three and six years, respectively, and defendants appealed. Id. at 4.

The appellate court modified the judgment of the trial court "to reflect a conviction for theft" instead of burglary, agreeing with the defendants that they did not break the plane of the car by removing the window. Id. The State then appealed the decision of the appellate court. Beauchamp, No. 108355, slip op. at 4.

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision of the appellate court, holding that "an entry into the vehicle was proved." Id. at 6. Under 5/19-1(a), "a person commits burglary when without authority he knowingly enters a motor vehicle, or any part thereof, with intent to commit therein a felony or theft." Id. at 5. For purposes of 5/19-1(a), an entry "does not require intrusion by a person's entire body; an intrusion by part of the body into the protected enclosure is sufficient." Id. (citing People v. Palmer, 83 Ill. App. 3d 732, 736 (1980)). Therefore, "an entry may be accomplished simply by 'breaking the close,' i.e., crossing the planes that enclose the protective space. Id. (citing People v. Parham, 377 Ill. App. 721, 730 (2007). The court reasoned that "when the rear door lock was punched out, defendants were able to open the rear window by either pressing the button or prying it open. Once open, defendants could grasp the window from both sides. Though touching the inside of the window, where the window opened away from the vehicle, does not constitute an entry, other evidence proved that the defendants did, in fact, break the close of the vehicle," such as the fact that it was "'a physical impossibility to remove the hatchback window without gaining at least minimal access to the protected interior, of the close, of the vehicle." Beauchamp, No. 108355, slip op. at 6-7.

Whether a defendant "breaks the plane" of a protected area will always be a question of fact for the jury or the judge. As the Beauchamp court notes, "The purpose of the burglary statute is to 'protect the security and integrity of certain specified enclosures…" Id. at 5. The question that Beauchamp addresses is, how can we define the boundaries of those "specified enclosures" when the space isn't actually enclosed? The court answers this question by creating an imaginary plane which stretches across the open space of a "specified enclosure" like a spider web. The idea of creating an imaginary plane like this is not new. The Fourth District, in the 1983 case of People v. Dawson, 452 N.E.2d 385, 387 (overruled on other grounds), held that a defendant who had entered an attached garage was guilty of residential burglary where he had "broken the close of the garage," which was left partially open for the family dog to go in and and out.

The Beauchamp court's reasoning is sound on its face, but the court may have been reaching when it applied the law to the facts in the instant case. The purpose of the burglary statute is no protect the integrity of the specified enclosure--in this case, a car. The question in Beauchamp was whether that integrity was imperiled when the back window was removed from the vehicle. The court ultimately held that it was because the defendants necessarily had to make an "entry," albeit a very minor one, into the car to pull off the window. Because the defendants did not enter the car through the backseat or through another window to remove the rear window, the court had to devise the idea of a "plane" covering the back of the car in order to find the defendants guilty of burglary. However, after Beauchamp, the "breaking the plane" fact issue could eventually become unworkable when imaginations run wild in trying to draw the boundaries of these imaginary planes. For defense lawyers, then, challenging the "entry" element of burglary statutes just got a little bit harder.


jonwilson said...

We have to protect ourselves from burglars to avoid these incidents. It's not so bad. Hire a locksmith near you to install security systems at home and you're good to go.

airplane accident attorney said...

I can't believe that someone would do such a thing. I hope that no one got hurt. Thanks.

criminal defense lawyer los angeles said...

Breaking the lock may not necessarily mean that the defendants are trying to burglarize the car. It can also be just an act of vandalism or destruction of property if the evidence are lacking. Though in this case, the court saw it otherwise.

Rekey Service Seagoville said...

We should take our action also to get rid of this burglary crime to happen on us.