There are different forms of offenses involving theft in California. Depending on the context in which the crime was committed, theft charges also bear varying levels of penalties. Among the California theft crimes is burglary of a safe or vault, which is no small offense. If charged, you face a felony sentence that includes hefty fines and a long time in prison. Given the severity of the consequences, you have to seek the help of a skilled attorney.

At the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand what burglary of a vault or safe charges entails. Therefore, we will protect your rights to the fullest, while at the same time, seeking to show that the prosecution’s case doesn’t hold beyond a reasonable doubt. Given our expertise, we may be able to have your case dismissed. And if a dismissal isn’t possible, we may have your charges reduced, so you face lenient penalties. We invite you to reach out to us soon after you have been arrested and let us defend you.

Defining Burglary of a Vault or Safe (Penal Code 464)

Penal Code 464 is the law that provides the legal meaning of the offense of burglary of a safe/vault. You commit this crime by going inside a building/structure intending to execute an offense while inside, then using an explosive or a torch to blow a safe or vault open. The crime is usually also known as burglary with explosives/safecracking/safe blowing.

Elements of a Violation of PC 464

For a conviction to occur under PC 464, the DA has to prove beyond any doubt various facts that define the offense. These are the facts known as the elements of the crime. They include:

  • You went inside a building/structure
  • When in it, you tried opening/opened a vault, safe
  • The attempt to open or success in the opening was achieved by using an explosive or torch
  • When going in the building/structure, you specifically intended to commit an additional offense

For Penal Code 464 purposes, it doesn’t matter whether the structure/building was unoccupied or occupied, or if you went into it at night or in the day. This law differs from PC 459, burglary law, which outlines different consequences of a burglary of a non-residence and a residence.

Note that for a conviction to occur, you need to have indeed entered the building/structure. If you opened or attempted opening the vault/safe without having first gone to the building/structure to do that, you wouldn’t be convicted of this crime.

Additionally, going inside a building/structure and the action of trying to blow open a safe/vault should be distinct actions. You ought to first go inside the building/structure and then open a secure place.

A torch under PC 464 means an electric arc, acetylene torch, burning bar, oxygen lance, thermal lance, or any other resembling gadget that can burn through concrete, metal, steel, or other solid substances.  Examples of explosives include nitroglycerine, dynamite, gunpowder, etc.

Is a Violation of PC 464 a Second- or First-Degree Burglary?

Burglary laws in California are provided under PC 456-464. A burglary offense is either classified as second- or first-degree. A burglary in the first-degree case involves residences, whereas a second degree involves stores and business establishments. A burglary charge in the second degree has lenient consequences compared to a first-degree charge because it is a wobbler. Wobblers are offenses that can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors based on your criminal history and the facts surrounding the case.

Residences classified under a burglary in the first-degree law are an occupied hotel or motel room and a lived-in building. Others include a lived-in floating home, trailer coach, house, room in a house, or boat.

The DA could treat your violation as a burglary in the first degree if you had the specific intention to enter a residence and use explosives to blow open a vault/safe that’s securely installed. He/she could charge you with burglary in the second degree if the crime happened at a business area or store. As we mentioned earlier, a burglary in the second degree can either be a felony or a misdemeanor. On the contrary, a burglary in the first degree is always a felony.

The Arrest Process in a Penal Code 464 Violation

Law enforcement officers usually respond quickly to burglary occurrences. If you’re an eligible suspect, then they will arrest you right away because violating PC 464 law is deemed a felony. But, they’ll investigate your situation to obtain all facts, assess proof, and reach out to witnesses before they apprehend you.

Police officers often initiate the arrest process shortly after the burglary crime has occurred. The suspect apprehension process may take several days in situations where the suspect dodged the officers or went into hiding after the offense. After the arrest, you will then be taken into custody, where you’ll wait for arraignment. You will also be asked to contact your criminal defense attorney or retain one who will help you contest the charges against you.

Your Legal Rights When Subject to Violation of Penal Code 464 Charges

As per California Article 1 Section 24 of the constitution, a defendant has legal rights in criminal cases. The statute outlines that you have the right to an attorney and that you must be accorded a speedy court trial. Furthermore, you are entitled to push for witness presence and challenge any witness that’s testifying for the prosecution’s side. Additional rights include freedom to challenge unreasonable searches & seizures, privacy, and fair punishment. 

The Court Process for Violation of Penal Code 464 Charges

California courts abide by strict procedures for criminal allegations, including violation of PC 464. The court process involves being arraigned in court, facing a pre-trial, your attorney filing different motions, then your case going to trial. Your case could take several months or weeks to solve. Below we look at these court processes in detail.

Being Arraigned in Court

After the arrest, Penal Code 825 of the California statutes dictates that you ought to be brought before a judge within 48 hours. During this initial appearance in court, the charges you are facing will be read. The judge will then want you to plead to them. That is, plead no contest, guilty, or not guilty. The court may allow you to be released on bail. You will also be informed of future hearings at the arraignment stage.

Facing a Pre-Trial

Judges use the pre-trial hearing to assess how the case is progressing. It is during this stage that the judge may solve any emerging problems connected to your charges. Your attorney and the prosecutor might also be allowed enough time to prepare their arguments. 

Motions & Readiness Hearing

At this point, the court allows appropriate legal motions to be brought after establishing the charges you face. For the readiness hearing, the two sides inform the judge that they’re prepared for trial. It’s also here that the judge may resolve the case or proceed to trial.

Facing a Trial

If your case reaches this point, you’ll have two options. You could choose a jury trial or a bench trial. Bench trials involve a judge determining your fate, while in jury trials, the jury decides your case.

Legal Defenses to the Crime of Burglary of a Safe/Vault

The DA will undoubtedly employ tactical means to have you convicted of violating Penal Code 464 law. For this reason, your attorney has to be aware of all the DAs proof and try to discredit it to obtain the most favorable outcome for your case. To succeed at this, your lawyer has to argue various legal defenses. Applicable defenses for this crime are:

You Didn’t Have Specific Intent

One common legal defense that defense attorneys argue is that you didn’t go into the building/structure, specifically intending to commit an offense once inside. Remember, one of the elements of this crime is that you should have the specific intent to commit another offense while inside a building. It wouldn’t be enough if you intended to commit an offense when you tried to open the safe. The intention has to have existed already when you went into the building.

Usually, PC 464 violation defendants are caught in a building/structure before any offense has been done, and DAs often need to depend on circumstantial proof to establish their specific intention. When the specific intent to commit a crime while inside a building is hard to substantiate, you may be capable of plea bargaining down to a reduced crime like PC 466, possessing burglary tools.

Mistaken Identity

Law-abiding citizens are misidentified all the time to be perpetrators of crimes. Your lawyer could argue this defense in your case if there was misleading proof or false allegations against you. This defense may also be applied to substantiate your innocence of the charge of violating PC 464. The DA may opt to lower your charges or even have them entirely dropped if your lawyer argues this defense successfully.

Police Misconduct

The police might violate your legal rights while trying to arrest you or obtaining evidence against you. For example, they could coerce you into confessing or carrying out illegal searches on your person or property. Fabricating or planting proof also qualifies as officer misconduct. If this is what happened during your arrest or investigation, your attorney could file a Pitchess Motion regarding this defense. The Pitchess Motion lets the judge establish whether the law enforcement officer has had similar complaints previously brought against him/her by other persons.

Claim of Right

The ‘claim of right’ defense may be used to substantiate that you did not intend to blow open the safe/vault. Your attorney could argue that you went into the structure/building to recover stuff that was rightfully yours, or you reasonably believed they were yours. The attorney could also explain to the judge that you reasonably believed that the property owner permitted you to retrieve the property.

Additional Factors the Prosecution Relies on to Make Your Case

The DA has to establish that you unlawfully went in a building intending to blow open a safe/vault using explosives. Note that even if you tried blowing up the safe/vault but failed, you could still be convicted. They have to show that the owner had not permitted you to enter it, and the vault was safely kept. Their case ought to revolve around your actions or intent to break into the safe or vault. Below we expound on the additional facts the DA will use to prosecute you:

The Incident Took Place in a Secured Space

Vaults and Safes are often kept in secure places to prevent unauthorized access. Thus, your actions will be considered a PC violation 464 if the DA proves that you entered into a restricted space. The prosecution may depend on proof such as camera footage or video surveillance, which indicate that you indeed committed the crime. Vault/safe documentation and witness statements may also be used as evidence.

The Building’s Owner Didn’t Permit Your Entrance

PC 464 considers going into a safeguarded place without consent an offense. Consent might include authorization or approval granted to you by the owner of the building/structure. If you went inside a commercial structure or house aiming to use explosives to blow up a safe/vault, the owner might call the cops on you if they do not know you. The prosecutor may present legal lists showing the persons allowed to access the building in question.

Your Intention of Entering the Building/Structure

Remember, one of the elements the prosecution should prove that you had the intent to break into a safe/vault using explosives before entering the building. For example, they may refer to the footage of security cameras at the site of the incident indicating how anxious you were. They might also prosecute you based on how you entered the place. The use of force to enter a building may mean you had the intent to crack or blow the vault/safe.

Penalties for Burglary of a Safe/Vault

Violation of the PC 464 statute is charged as a felony under the California statute. The possible penalties include:

  • Three, five, or seven years in jail. The sentence is served under the realignment program
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Formal (felony) probation

The realignment program bill was enacted in 2011 to lessen the defendants’ sentencing. You can benefit from this program when subject to violation of PC 464 charges. Here, you will serve your sentence in the county jail rather than being sent to state prison. But the conviction period will remain the same.

A felony probation sentence is usually imposed on felons. If you are sentenced to probation instead of prison time, you will have to serve it entirely or partly in a designated community while under supervision. The sentence takes three to five years.  However, the court might cancel your probation then reinstate the original prison term if you violate its terms and conditions.

Additionally, violation of PC 464 is categorized as a deportable offense. The Department of Homeland security (DHS) will have you deported if your offense is intense. Apart from deportation, you also risk being labeled as inadmissible to the United States. By this, it means the DHS might prohibit your re-entry into the country after you have been deported or disapprove of your application to be a United States citizen. All this means special care has to be observed if you’re an alien prosecuted with this offense.

Violation of PC 464 and Related Crimes

Your freedom may still be in jeopardy even if you successfully prove to the court that you are innocent of Penal Code 464 charges. This is because there may be another crime you may be convicted of instead of burglary of a safe/vault. Sometimes, you could even be convicted of two separate crimes. That is a PC 464 violation and another similar crime. Burglary of a safe/vault is related to other offenses because they share most of the elements. And if the prosecutor fails to prove all the facts under PC 464, you may be convicted of an offense that matches all the facts he/she has established. These crimes include:

PC 466, Possession of Burglary Tools

PC 466 law makes it an offense for you to possess burglary tools with a criminal intention. Crowbars, screwdrivers, pliers, picklocks, key bits, tension bars, slide hammers, master keys, and spark plug chips are all examples of burglary tools.  PC 466 violation is charged as a misdemeanor whose consequences include a maximum of six months in jail. This statute also outlines that it is unlawful to alter a key that belongs to another person without their consent. You could be prosecuted under PC 466 and 464 laws if you had burglary tools with you at the time of your arrest.

PC 18710, Possessing Destructive Devices

PC 18710 makes it a criminal offense to possess any destructive device, including grenades, bombs, projectiles containing incendiary material, explosive missiles, and specific kinds of rockets or rocket-propelled projectiles. However, unlike PC 464, PC 18710 doesn’t require any intent. That is, you don’t need to have had the intention to use the destructive device in your possession for you to be found guilty. Merely having it is enough to have you convicted.

Violation of PC 18710 is a wobbler. Misdemeanor punishments include a maximum of one year in jail and up to $1000 in fines. If convicted of a felony, you will face sixteen months, two or three years in prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000.

PC 18720, Possessing Destructive Device Materials

PC 18720 prohibits the possession of materials used to make destructive devices like bombs or other explosives. You also don’t need to have had any intent to use the materials for you to be convicted. Violation of PC 18720 is always a felony. Potential consequences are felony probation, up to $10,000 in fines, and two, three, or four years in jail under the realignment program.

PC 211, Robbery

Robbery involves forcefully taking another person’s property that is in their immediate presence, and against the person’s will, achieved through fear, force, or intimidation. Robbery is charged as a felony. Its penalties include up to nine years in prison. You could be convicted of burglary of a safe/fault and robbery if you acted with intent.

PC 602, Trespass

PC 602 is the law that describes the offense of trespassing. You are considered to have trespassed if you enter or remain on another’s property without their consent or legal right to do so. This crime is charged as a misdemeanor whose penalties include up to $1000 in fines and a maximum of six months in jail. Your PC 464 charges could be lessened to simple trespass under PC 602 or aggravated trespass under PC 601 if your lawyer successfully negotiates with the DA. Aggravated trespass is, however, a wobbler with a one-year county jail if charged as a misdemeanor and up to three years in prison if it’s a felony

PC 459, Burglary

Burglary means entering any locked vehicle or residential or commercial structure intending to commit any felony or theft once inside. This crime is classified into two: second- and first-degree burglary. It is a burglary in the first degree if it occurs in a residential structure and burglary in the second degree if it happens in business premises. First-degree burglary is always a felony with a punishment of up to six years in prison. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler. Felony punishments include a maximum of three years in prison.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Failure to find a proper legal defense for your burglary of a vault or safe charge means you will face the penalties we mentioned above. Additionally, you may lose your 2nd Amendment rights to possess or own a gun for life. Our Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm lawyers have successfully defended hundreds of clients facing a violation of PC 64 charges. If you’re in this similar situation, reach out to us at 714-740-7848 to speak to one of our expert attorneys.