In general, the crime of burglary is normally defined as the breaking and entering into a structure for the purposes of committing a theft or some other felony offense while inside. When the term “burglary” is applied in a traditional sense, it can include a breaking and entering into a wide range of structures. For instance, in many jurisdictions, the definition will incorporate various kinds of properties like office buildings, houses, and motor homes.

However, this is not always the case under every state law. This is because each state has its own separate definition for burglary, along with the types of structures that are covered under a respective state’s criminal statute.

For example, the state of Washington has created a separate category for crimes that involve a breaking and entering into a vehicle, which would include a motor home. This specific criminal act is known as the crime of “vehicle prowling.”

According to the Revised Code of Washington (“RCW”), which is simply the name ascribed to the current collection of active laws in Washington state, vehicle prowling is described as a crime that occurs when:

  • An individual unlawfully enters or remains in a vehicle, motor home, or houseboat;
  • Without license, consent, or privilege to do so; and
  • With intent to commit crimes against persons or property therein.

In addition, the RCW also provides two separate charges to distinguish the difference between vehicle prowling in the first and second degrees. The factors that are applied to differentiate first degree vehicle prowling from second degree vehicle prowling will be discussed in further detail in the next section below.

Finally, if the crime of vehicle prowling seems unfamiliar to you, that is because it only exists in Washington state. While other jurisdictions may divide burglary charges in accordance with separate kinds of structures and vehicles, the RCW is the only state code that uses this title. Thus, to learn more about the charges and possible penalties associated with the crime of vehicle prowling in Washington state, you should contact a Washington lawyer in your county.

Are First Degree and Second Degree Vehicle Prowling Defined Differently in Washington State?

The answer to whether vehicle prowling in the first and second degree is defined differently in Washington state is two-fold. As discussed above, the crime of vehicle prowling will essentially require the prosecution to prove the following elements:

  • That the defendant unlawfully entered or remained in a certain type of vehicle;
  • Without license, privilege, or the owner’s permission to do so; and
  • With the intent to commit a crime against a person (e.g., assault) or property (e.g., theft) therein.

Thus, the answer to this question with regard to intent is no. There is no difference between first degree and second degree vehicle prowling when it comes to proving a defendant’s intent to commit this crime.

However, there is a difference between the two degrees of vehicle prowling when it comes to where the crime took place. Therefore, whether an individual is charged with first degree or second degree prowling will depend on the facts of each individual case.

For example, a defendant will be charged with vehicle prowling in the first degree if the offense occurred in a motor home or on a houseboat. On the other hand, a defendant will be charged with vehicle prowling in the second degree if the crime took place in any other type of vehicle that is not considered a motor home or a houseboat, such as a car or an SUV.

In addition, the RCW offers definitions for the kinds of vehicles that it considers a motor home or a houseboat in its text. These definitions are then applied by counsel and the court to either prove, disprove, and/or decide the outcome of a case.

For reference, the RCW defines a motor home as:

  • A motor-vehicle initially designed, reconstructed, or permanently altered to create facilities for human habitation and that includes:
    • Lodging quarters, and
    • Cooking facilities or a sewage disposal;
  • Is enclosed within the vehicle’s solid body shell; and
  • Excludes campers or units that are separately constructed and attached to a motor vehicle.

Lastly, the RCW defines a houseboat or similar vessel as the following:

  • A vessel equipped for propulsion by either:
    • Mechanical means, or
    • By sail;
  • That has a cabin equipped with either:
    • An area that serves as a permanent sleeping quarters for its residents, or
    • Has permanently installed cooking facilities (e.g., a stove).

What is the Difference between Being Charged with Vehicle Prowling in the First and Second Degree?

As previously discussed, there is a difference between being charged with vehicle prowling in the first and second degree. The main fact that this distinction turns on is the type of vehicle the defendant entered or remained in when they committed the crime of vehicle prowling.

For instance, a defendant can be charged with vehicle prowling in the first degree if they unlawfully entered or remained in a motor home or on a houseboat with the intent to commit crimes against persons or property therein.

On the other hand, a defendant may be charged with vehicle prowling in the second degree if they unlawfully entered or remained in a vehicle other than a motor home or a houseboat with the intent to commit a crime against persons or property therein.

Another difference between the two degrees of vehicle prowling is that a defendant who is charged in the first degree can be convicted of a Class C felony. In contrast, a defendant who is charged with vehicle prowling in the second degree can be convicted of a gross misdemeanor. Briefly, gross misdemeanors tend to carry harsher sentences than those issued for standard misdemeanor crimes.

What is the Punishment for Vehicle Prowling in Washington State?

The punishment for vehicle prowling in Washington state is also separated by degrees. Thus, the punishment for vehicle prowling in the first degree in Washington State, which is considered a Class C felony, may include the following:

  • A prison sentence for up to a maximum of five years in a state facility;
  • A criminal fine of $10,000; or
  • A combination of both.

In addition, a defendant who is convicted and sentenced for vehicle prowling in the first degree will receive a felony conviction on their permanent criminal record. This can have long-lasting effects on a defendant’s daily life, such as eliminating their right to vote in elections or to gain custody over their children.

On the other hand, the punishment for vehicle prowling in the second degree in Washington state, which is considered a gross misdemeanor, may include less harsher forms of punishment like the following:

  • A jail sentence for up to one full year in a county facility;
  • A criminal fine of $5,000; or
  • Both.

One other important note about punishments for vehicle prowling in the second degree is that it can result in a felony offense if the defendant has two or more prior convictions on their criminal record for this same crime.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Case?

If you are facing charges for vehicle prowling in Washington state, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a Washington criminal lawyer who practices in your county as soon as possible. A Washington lawyer who has experience in handling vehicle prowling cases will be able to inform you of your rights as a criminal defendant under the relevant state statutes and can offer advice on the best way to proceed with your case.

Your lawyer can also assist you in developing a solid defensive argument against your charges and can provide legal representation in court. In addition, your lawyer can determine whether there are any other defenses that you can raise to help get the charges against you either reduced or completely dropped.