Man Acquitted of Mission District Burglary

San Francisco— A homeless man desperate for shelter was acquitted of burglary after a jury determined he lacked the intent to steal when he entered a Mission District residence last year, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.

Jurors deliberated one day before acquitting 29-year-old Phillip Martinez on Tuesday of residential burglary with a hot prowl allegation. Martinez faced up to 17 years in prison if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Hadi Razzaq.

Martinez was arrested Nov. 3 after allegedly climbing the scaffolding of a building under renovation in the 900 block of Guerrero Street and entering a residence through an unfinished attic. Martinez believed the apartment was unoccupied during construction, however, the building’s owner was allowing a construction worker to temporarily live in the unit during the project.

The construction worker testified he and his girlfriend were in the bedroom when they heard footsteps. After spotting Martinez in the unit, the worker quickly retreated to the bedroom and called 911. Responding officers found Martinez resting in an office area behind a bank of computer monitors. Officers did not find any stolen property in Martinez’s possession, nothing in the unit was damaged, and he did not appear to have used the computers, Razzaq said.

Prosecutors argued that Martinez’s homeless status was irrelevant and his entrance to the apartment was evidence of his intent to steal. However, Razzaq argued there was no evidence Martinez took or tampered with anything. A man who served as Martinez’s former CASA, a court-appointed special advocate for neglected or abused foster children, testified that Martinez had been periodically homeless since he was 16 and that Martinez appeared at his doorstep just days earlier appearing tired, withdrawn, and hungry.

“There was zero evidence Mr. Martinez was motivated by theft,” Razzaq said. “On the other hand, there was ample evidence he was desperate for temporary shelter. He had no money, no keys, no wallet and no identification when he was found. He was wearing shoes at least two sizes too large. He just wanted to rest or sleep somewhere.”

While Martinez did not have permission to be in the building, prosecutors did not charge him with trespassing.

Martinez had been in jail since his arrest, unable to afford $100,000 bail.

Adachi said the case was overcharged by prosecutors.

“The intent to steal is essential to a burglary charge. In Mr. Martinez’s case, it was clear that wasn’t his motivation. Fortunately, he had a public defender who fought for him and a jury who carefully weighed the facts,” Adachi said.

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