Burglary is a broad definition describing several types of offenses. One crime is the burglary of a safe or vault, which is specific to safes and vaults.

Burglary is denied as the entry of a building or structure without permission to commit a crime. Therefore, the jury will find you guilty of burglary of a safe or vault when your actions fit the above definition and you further open or attempt to open a safe or vault or another secure location using a torch or explosive. This offense is a felony.

Convictions result in hefty fines and significant prison time. Fighting the charges is often challenging, hence the need for an experienced attorney. The California Criminal Lawyer Group team’s combined experience puts us in the best position to offer legal assistance should you face burglary of a safe or vault charges in Anaheim.

Burglary of a Safe or Vault Under California Law

Under Penal Code 464, it is a felony to enter a building or structure without permission, to commit a crime, and while inside, use an explosive or an acetylene torch, an electric arc, thermal lance, burning bar, oxygen lance, or other similar equipment capable of burning through concrete or steel to blow open a safe, vault, or another secure location.

It is important to note that explosives include dynamite, nitroglycerine, gunpowder, or any other explosive material.

Burglary, as denied under Penal Code 459, is entering a structure, building, or a locked vehicle intending to commit petty theft, grand theft, or a felony offense. Further, burglary can be of a:

  • Commercial structure, in which case you must have accessed the building during operating hours, and
  • Residence — An inhabited building

Pursuant to PC 464, it does not matter whether the building is inhabited or uninhabited. Neither does it matter whether the building was a commercial structure or residential, as is the case of burglary under PC 459. Of importance is that the defendant entered a building. If there is no evidence he/she was in the building, the charges will be dismissed.

Elements Prosecutors Must Prove

Prosecutors can only secure a conviction if they prove the following elements as actual.

  • You, the defendant, entered a building
  • While inside the premises, you attempted to open a vault, a safe, or a secured area
  • You opened or attempted to open the vault, safe, or a secured area by using an explosive or a torch, and
  • At the time you entered the building, you intended to commit a crime or another offense — The crimes under consideration in most cases are grand or petty theft.

Unlawfully taking another person’s property valued at more than $950 with the intent to deprive the victim of the property is grand theft. However, the value could be less than $950, but if the theft targeted a firearm, vehicle, or animal, these actions are grand theft cases.

Petty theft has a similar definition, only that the property value in petty theft cases is less than $950.

Take note that you do not have to successfully access the vault, safe, or secured area. An attempt is sufficient to secure a conviction under PC 464, provided the prosecution proves their case.

Here is a detailed assessment of each element.

You Entered a Building

The prosecution must prove you accessed a building. Access to a building is not limited to your entire body being inside the building. It also includes a part of your body inside the building, for example, stretching your hand to access a safe.

Cameras come in handy in establishing that a defendant entered a building. This is the most reliable direct evidence the D.A. can use. However, surveillance footage is not foolproof. Most burglary culprits often wear clothing to conceal their identity, for example, masks, dark clothing, and glasses. In these cases, the culprit cannot be immediately identified. Your attorney can then challenge the prosecution’s evidence identifying you as the person in the footage.

Additionally, being identified as the individual accessing the building is only as good as the quality of the footage. Outdated equipment shows grainy images or video footage, which creates room for misidentification.

Cameras have blind spots. If the culprit knew of the blindspots and utilized them to avoid being seen, then the D.A’s use of surveillance footage placing you in the building at the time the crime was allegedly committed is questionable.

It bears emphasizing that under PC 464, the time you access a building or the type of the building is inconsequential. What matters is that you gained access to a building.

Intent to Commit a Crime

A guilty verdict requires prosecutors to prove you had the intent to commit an offense inside the building before you entered the building. Whereas intent to commit a crime is difficult to prove, it is not impossible.

Evidence presented to prove intent also varies with each case. Prosecutors could rely on eyewitness accounts. In these instances, the eyewitness could testify that a defendant conveyed his/her intentions to commit an offense after accessing a building. Should the prosecution lack eyewitness testimony, they rely on surveillance footage.

With CCTV footage, a prosecutor will focus on a defendant's actions. When a culprit checks around to ascertain no one is watching and sneaks into a building, this action is attributed to an individual who is looking to commit an act without being spotted. This act conveys intent.

In extreme situations, offenders go the extra mile by immobilizing victims to prevent them from seeking help. They will use zip ties, duck tape, or ropes to bind their victims. The use of these materials leads to the logical conclusion that the suspect planned the burglary. Thus, the materials serve as evidence of intent.

Breaking Into or Attempting to Break Into a Safe or Vault

The success of a burglary plan is immaterial since an attempt is equally pivotal for a conviction.

Note: Whereas you could have accessed a building, you only violate PC 464 if you broke into or attempted to break into a safe, vault, or secured location.

Prosecutors rely on surveillance footage as evidence of your actions. In the absence of footage, forensic evidence suffices. The investigating team will present evidence of torch marks, explosive material at the site, or metal fillings, all indicators of an attempt to access the vault or safe.

However, all this evidence must be traced back to you. Therefore, your DNA at the safe or secured site or photos or video footage of you at the safe, vault, or the secure area will be used as evidence in your case.

Explosives and Torches

Prosecutors must introduce evidence of equipment associated with the burglary of a safe, vault, or secure place. High-temperature torches and explosives breach the concrete or steel structure of the vault or safe.

Examples of Actions that Fit PC 464’s Definition of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Here are some examples of actions that violate PC 464.

  • Using an acetylene torch or gunpowder to blow open a safe
  • Using an acetylene torch in an attempt to access a store after hours
  • Entering a bank and using an explosive to access the vault

Legal Defenses You Can Assert

You need an excellent legal defense team to improve your odds of securing an advantageous outcome. Experienced attorneys will challenge the case against you through various defenses. The choice of an ideal defense strategy is based on the circumstances of the case.

These are the common defenses.

a)  Lack of an Intent to Commit a Crime

Prosecutors secure convictions if it is proven that a defendant intended to commit an offense before entering a building. Proving this is challenging but to the defendant’s advantage.

If an individual walks into a building and steals an item, it is difficult to prove he/she intended to steal before accessing the building. Prosecutors need direct evidence to establish the intent.

Formulating an intent to commit an offense inside a building is not burglary. However, this act could result in theft charges.

The D.A. often relies on eyewitness accounts or possession of burglary tools, in this case, torches or explosive materials, to prove intent. However, possession in itself is not sufficient. Your attorney can argue that you formulated the intent after accessing the building and not before.

b)  No Vault or Safe

Penal Code 464 requires an attempt or access to a vault, safe, or secured area. Therefore, the prosecution must present evidence of the existence of a safe, vault, or secure location to which you allegedly attempted to gain access. Additionally, the prosecution should demonstrate the alleged attempt to gain access to these secured areas.

Therefore, it is a defense for an accused to demonstrate he/she did not attempt to open the safe or vault. Alternatively, it is a defense to claim there was no safe or vault. You would not violate PC 464 if there was no safe or vault in the building.

c)  Lack of a Torch or Explosive

It is upon the prosecution to substantiate their claim that you violated PC 464 by presenting a torch or explosive material into evidence. Therefore, attempting to access the safe by guessing the combination or using a sledgehammer to break open a safe is not a violation of PC 464.

d)  Misidentification

Cases of misidentification are common. Someone could falsely claim you were involved in a safe or vault burglary. Without corroborating evidence, prosecutors should dismiss your case. Moreover, prosecutors could use CCTV footage to identify you as the culprit. However, your attorney can challenge the evidence, especially if the quality of the footage is poor. With an alibi, it becomes even easier to establish your whereabouts at the crime scene.

e)  Police MIsconduct

Individuals facing criminal charges also have legal rights that should be upheld. A violation of these rights by police officers is grounds to challenge the case and have the charges dismissed. Two specific rights that police officers violate are:

  • Miranda rights — Police officers are required to read individuals they arrest their Miranda rights before an arrest. Failure to inform a suspect of their right to an attorney and their right to remain silent is an offense. Any evidence, including a confession obtained after an arrest, will be thrown out.
  • Fourth amendment rights — The Constitution protects all individuals from illegal search and seizure. A police officer should present a search warrant. Failure to which the search is unlawful. A criminal defense attorney will challenge any evidence obtained from the search. A dismissal of the charges is highly likely should the judge find the officers violated the defendant’s rights.

f)  Claim of Right

You can claim ownership of the property. Thus, any efforts you make to recover your property do not amount to a violation of PC 464. Additionally, the claim of right can be actual or a reasonable belief that the property belongs to you.

Penalties for Committing a Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Burglary of a safe or vault is a felony. The offense is punishable by a prison sentence of up to seven years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

The judge could impose formal probation terms as an alternative to time in prison. He/she will assign you community service hours and require you to remain under supervision, among other terms. The judge could reinstate the prison terms and revoke your probation if you violate your probation.

A felony conviction affects your gun rights. You will lose your right to own a gun. Any possession following your conviction is deemed illegal and warrants further criminal action.

Additionally, convictions for PC 464 violations affect the immigration status of non-citizens. PC 464 violations are deportable offenses. Therefore, non-citizens convicted under PC 464 will be deported to their country of origin and denied reentry to the US.

Offenses Related to Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Four crimes are related to PC 464 violations.

  • Burglary, a PC 459 violation
  • Possession of burglary tools, a crime under PC 466, and
  • Duplication of a key to a state building, an offense under PC 469
  • Robbery, a PC 211 violation

a)  Burglary

It is an offense to enter a structure or locked vehicle without permission with the intent to commit petty theft, grand theft, or a felony once inside. Such action is defined as burglary, an offense under PC 459.

Prosecutors must prove the following elements of the crime.

  • A defendant entered a building, a room within the structure, or a locked car.
  • The defendant intended to commit a theft when you entered the building, structure, or locked vehicle.
  • One or more of the following is true.
  • The value of the property stolen exceeded $950
  • The structure the defendant accessed was not a commercial building or
  • The building was a commercial establishment, but the defendant accessed it outside the operating hours

Note: You can be charged with a PC 459 violation even if there was no forced entry.

Burglary is either in the first or second degree. First-degree burglary refers to accessing a residence, while in second-degree burglary, the defendant is alleged to have accessed business premises outside operating hours. The intent to commit grand theft, petty theft, or a felony is constant in both.

First-degree burglary is a felony offense punishable by two, four, or six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Alternatively, the judge could issue probation terms as opposed to prison time. The crime is a strikeable offense per California’s Three Strikes Law.

Second-degree burglary, on the other hand, is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors can pursue misdemeanor or felony penalties. Convictions on misdemeanor charges are punishable by a jail term of up to one year, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both, or summary probation.

b)  Possession of Burglary Tools

PC 466 makes it a crime to possess tools intended for burglary. You possess burglary tools when you have one of the 15 objects the law considers as burglary tools. Furthermore, you must have an intent to commit burglary. These objects or tools include:

  • Picklocks
  • Sledgehammers
  • Key bits
  • Vise grip pliers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Master keys
  • Tension bars and spark plug chips

Context matters. Individuals in the construction industry possess, use, and own most of the above mentioned tools. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see contractors or construction workers possess them. Furthermore, you could own a few of these tools. Thus, PC 466 heavily relies on the intent to commit burglary to secure convictions. Should the prosecution fail to prove intent, the case will be dismissed.

PC 466 is a misdemeanor violation. Convictions will result in a maximum fine of $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both.

c)  Duplication of a Key to a State Building

Any individual who, without proper authorization, duplicates a key to a state building in California commits an offense under PC 469. State buildings include installations owned by the state of California, public schools, and city or county buildings.

A court will find an individual guilty of a PC 469 violation if the prosecution proves the following elements of the crime.

  • The defendant knowingly duplicated, made, or caused to be duplicated a key to a state building. Further, the individual is also criminally liable if they use the replicated key, or
  • The defendant attempted to duplicate or make cause to be replicated or use a key that accesses a state building, and
  • The defendant lacked authorization from the individual in charge of the building, and
  • The defendant knew he/she lacked authorization.

Note: Possessing a duplicate key to a state building made without authorization is also a crime.

If you are found guilty of duplicating a key to a state building, you will be convicted on misdemeanor charges. The offense is punishable by a jail sentence of no more than six months and a fine of up to $1,000. Probation is also an alternative punishment a judge could impose instead of jail time.

d)  Robbery

PC 211 makes it a crime to feloniously take another individual’s personal property, one that he/she possesses, from his/her immediate presence, person, or against his/her will through fear or force.

PC 211’s definition of the crime presents particular elements the prosecution must prove for you to be convicted. They are that:

  • You took property belonging to another
  • Said property was in p[ossession of another
  • You took property from another individual or his/her immediate presence
  • You took the property against the victim’s will
  • You used force or fear to take hold of another’s property or to prevent the individual from resisting, and
  • By using force or fear, you aimed at depriving the owner of his/her rights to the property for a period long enough to deny him/her of a significant portion of its value.

A guilty verdict will result in a conviction punishable by varying penalties depending on the circumstances of your case. You can be charged with first or second-degree robbery.

First-Degree Robbery

First-degree robbery occurs when:

  • The victim is a passenger or a driver of a taxi, streetcar, bus, or other transport for-hire vehicles
  • The incident transpired on a boat, trailer, or an inhabited house.
  • The robbery takes place immediately or while the victim is using an ATM.

Convictions for first-degree robbery are punishable by three, four, or six years in prison or a maximum fine of $10,000 or both. If you robbed an individual in an uninhabited house, the penalties would increase to three, six, or nine years.

Second-Degree Robbery

Second-degree robbery is robbery that does not meet the first-degree threshold. A conviction is punishable by two, three, or five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Find a Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Whatever the circumstances of your case, it is in your best interest to engage with an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight the burglary of a safe or vault charge adequately. The California Criminal Lawyer Group team’s combined experience makes us well equipped to handle your case. We offer individuals facing PC 464 violation charges in Anaheim legal counsel and representation in court.

Contact us at 714-766-0965 to speak to one of our attorneys to schedule a free, confidential initial consultation.