After Flip Flops, California Judges Decide if a Balcony is Part of a Residence

california burglary definition balcony.jpg
Where is Albert when you need him?
Around midnight on Aug. 5, 2009 in Los Angeles, Jammal Haneef Yarbrough climbed nine feet to a second story residential balcony containing two bicycles and was clinging to a four-foot high steel railing when a dog in the home began barking and the resident emerged to confront him.

Yarbrough fled and, though he didn't take anything, was arrested. After Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen declared the balcony part of the residence, a jury convicted the defendant of burglary.

The defendant appealed his case to a California Court of Appeal based in Los Angeles and got his conviction reversed.

In a six-page, March 2011 opinion written by Justice Robert M. Mallano--a former LA prosecutor and superior court judge, the appellate court decided that the second-floor balcony was not an enclosed area of the residence and therefore by definition a burglary couldn't have occurred.

Mallano felt so sure of his stance that he published his opinion for official use in future cases.

But thankfully last week the California Supreme Court applied common sense and reversed the reversal. 

"Whenever a private, residential apartment and its balcony are on the second or a higher floor of a building, and the balcony is designed to be entered only from inside the apartment (thus extending the apartment's living space), the balcony is part of the apartment," Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the Supreme Court. "The railing of such a balcony marks the apartment's outer boundary, any slight crossing of which is an entry for purposes of the burglary statute."

Yarbrough, 26, remains locked up inside the California Medical Facility, a medical/psychiatric prison in Vacaville.

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