Burglary of a Safe or Vault

In California, the crime of theft involves many different offenses. Each of these types of theft carries varying penalties based on the nature or context of the charge. One of these theft offenses is burglary, which is detached from other forms of theft. Per Penal Code Section 464, it is a crime to enter a building to open a vault or safe using explosives or a torch. The crime is a felony and carries no more than seven years in prison.

If you are in Santa Ana, CA, and have been charged with a violation of PC 464, get in touch with Darwish Law. Our criminal defense attorneys will help you understand your legal rights and the options available. We will analyze your case and come up with appropriate defense strategies. Below we have highlighted in detail the crime of burglary of a safe or vault.

Legal Definition of California Burglary 

As per Penal Code Section 459, burglary is committed when an individual illegally enters a structure with full plans of committing a felony while inside. Unlike robbery, which utilizes force or fear to unlawfully take someone’s property, burglary simply requires trespassing through an open door. You could be convicted of burglary for merely trespassing. Most burglaries occur when there is no one present in the structure.

Burglary has two different degrees, which vary depending on where the crime takes place. If the offense occurs in a residence, it falls under the first-degree class. If the crime is committed in any other structure that is not a house, it belongs to the second-degree class. However, it’s worth noting that after the passing of Prop 47 in California, the definition of burglary was broadened to distinguish shoplifting or theft that occurs in business premises during the day.

The reason for developing burglary law under common law was to protect people’s homes and avert violence. The purpose was to protect victims present during the commission of burglary from harmful run-ins with burglars. It was also intended to preserve the inviolability of structures.

General View of Burglary of a Vault or Safe

California Penal Code Section 464 outlines a different version of burglary, which involves burglarizing or opening a safe or vault using explosives or torch devices. A violation of PC 464 occurs when you enter a structure unlawfully, with the full interest of committing a felony theft once inside and attempting to blow a safe, vault, or any other secure place, utilizing a torch or explosive gadgets. Trying to break into a safe with valued items is enough reason for the prosecutor to charge you with a violation of PC 464.

Keep in mind that the prosecuting attorney can handle PC 464 violation charges as a first-degree burglary if you intended to crack or blow a safe fitted in a residential property. If a similar offense occurs in a commercial area or store, it is charged as second-degree burglary. 

Arrest Process for PC 464 Violation

Opening another’s safe in California is a felony, which means police officers won’t hesitate to apprehend you if they believe you are the perpetrator. If you managed to escape the scene of the crime without arrest, police must take time to conduct an investigation and can only arrest you if the investigation is over, and the evidence available is enough to have the court issue an arrest warrant. This might take days or weeks. After the arrest, you will be held in custody awaiting arraignment.

Please note that Article 1, Section 24 of the California Constitution protects the rights of criminal defendants. Under this section, anyone arrested for a crime in California has the right to legal representation. Further, a defendant has a right to a public and speedy trial, fair punishment, privacy, and the freedom to resist an illegal search or seizure.

Court Process for PC 464 Charges

Not knowing what will happen once you have been charged with safe-cracking or safe-blowing can be overwhelming and stressful. At Darwish Law, we encourage people arrested for or charged with burglary to reach out to a defense attorney right away. An attorney will help you avoid the stress and anxiety by walking you through the court process for the charges you are facing. The court proceedings for these charges involve the following steps:

  1. The Arraignment of the Suspect

California Constitution provides that a person arrested for opening or attempting to blow up a safe should appear before a judge. During this stage, the charge sheet will be read to you by a judge, and then you enter a plea. You can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Your plea will determine if you will be released on bond or remain in custody. Whatever happens, don’t lose hope and plead not guilty regardless of what the prosecutor promises. Instead, hire a defense attorney with knowledge of cases like yours so that you can put a strong defense to obtain a reduced charge or a case dismissal.

  1. Pre-Trial Stage

At this stage, the judge evaluates the progress being made in the case. In case either of the sides wants to raise a matter that needs resolving, it should be done during pre-trial. If you want more time for preparations, you can request it at this stage to ensure you have a solid defense. Preparation is key in defending against these charges. Make sure you begin early by hiring an attorney right after the arrest or request the judge for extra time to formulate the right strategies to contest the charges.

  1. Proposition and Readiness Proceeding

When all the parties are prepared for the case, they begin to file various motions. Also, at this stage, the readiness hearing occurs so that the opposing parties can notify the judge that they are ready to proceed to trial.

  1. Case Trial

Here, you are expected to choose between a bench trial or a jury trial. For a bench trial, the judge will hear the case and give a verdict. On the other hand, a jury trial involves selecting jurors who will listen to the opposing sides and decide the case. This is the most critical stage of the proceedings, and it’s where your attorney comes in handy by fighting the prosecution’s evidence.

Elements of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

You will end up with a conviction if the prosecutor can prove specific facts of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements the prosecuting attorney must prove include:

  • You got into a structure.

  • While in the structure, you opened or tried to open a secure place like a vault.

  • You made use of torch devices or explosives to open or attempt to open the secure place.

  • At the time of gaining entry to the structure, you had full and specific intent to commit a crime.

Under PC 464, it doesn’t matter whether the building was occupied or not. The time of gaining entry also doesn’t matter. One notable thing about this crime is that you must enter the building. Suppose you attempt to blow a safe or vault while outside the structure, you are not guilty under PC 464. The action of entering a building and breaking or attempting to break into a secure place is distinct. You must enter the structure first, then proceed to the next act, cracking or trying to crack open a vault.

Facts the Prosecution Relies on to Build a PC 464 Violation Case Against You

The prosecuting side must present evidence before a judge or jury to demonstrate that you illegally entered a structure intending to blow or crack a safe or were successful in opening a safe. Additionally, they need to prove that you didn’t have permission from the owner when you entered the building and secured the safe. The following are elements the prosecutor uses to build a case against you:

The Owner of the Structure had not Given Consent to Your Entrance 

Any entry to a structure or secure place not authorized by the owner is illegal under PC 464. Consent, in this case, includes authorization or approval to gain access to the building. So, you will be subject to charges under this statute if you entered a structure and tried to open a safe, and the owner of the structure doesn’t recognize you. The prosecutor could also use the list of people authorized to access the building to show that your name doesn’t appear on the list, making your entry illegal.

The Burglary Occurred in a Secure Place like a Vault 

The reason safes and vaults are secured is to ensure access is only for those authorized. So, if you illegally access a reserved area to blow or break into a safe and succeed in doing so, you will be subject to PC 464 violation charges. However, a conviction can only happen if the prosecution presents evidence to prove you broke or cracked a safe. Camera footage, eyewitnesses, and safe documentation are evidence the prosecution will use to demonstrate this element.

Plans or Interest to Crack the Safe or Vault 

Another assertion the prosecutor must make is that you had an interest in opening or cracking the vault/safe before illegally entering a structure. In this case, the intent is demonstrated by the manner you used to gain access to the building. If you used force to access the restricted area, it is enough evidence of your plans to blow or crack a safe/vault. Again, if you were nervous before entering the structure, the prosecuting team can use the CCTV footage at the time of entrance to show you had the intent to break into a secure place.

Possible Penalties for Burglarizing a Safe/Vault in California

If you burglarize a safe/vault using explosives in California and are apprehended, you will be subject to felony charges. And in case the prosecuting team proves all the above elements beyond reasonable certainty, you will face the following penalties:

  • Formal or felony probation

  • 3, 5, or 7 years in county jail under California’s realignment program

  • Court fines of no more than $10,000

Take note that if you are an immigrant, a sentence for this crime could result in deportation.

Felony probation is a type of punishment imposed on California felons. Under this form of punishment, you can serve part or your entire sentence in a chosen community while under supervision. The exercise can last up to 60 months but not less than 36 months. This probation comes with specific requirements, and in the event these terms are violated, the judge might cancel probation and impose the initial sentence.

To reduce the harsh sentencing of defendants, the Realignment Bill was passed into law in 2011. Since then, people who end up with a conviction under PC 464 have benefited from the program. What happens under this program is that instead of serving your sentence in state prison, the court sentences you to the county jail, although its duration remains constant.

If you are a non-citizen, a sentence for blowing up a vault or safe can have you deported. And in case you were applying for American citizenship, the conviction might make you inadmissible. Your application will be revoked, and you might be barred from setting foot on American soil.

It’s worth noting that a sentence under PC 464 can deny you individual civil rights and privileges. A conviction could also affect your life because finding a meaningful job will be an uphill task if you are unemployed. Getting a promotion at work will also be impossible if you have a criminal record of burglarizing a safe/vault utilizing explosives.

If you assess these possible penalties, you will see the need to fight the charges with everything you have. The best way to do that is by hiring a criminal attorney from Darwish Law to contest the charges.

Legal Defenses for Burglarizing a Safe/Vault

The prosecuting party uses various strategies to earn a conviction. Your criminal defense attorney should also do the same and develop multiple defense strategies that will help lower or dismiss the charges.

One of the most common legal defenses is asserting that you lacked interest or intent to commit a crime when you gained access to a structure. You are only guilty under this statute if you entered a building with interest to engage in crime. If you developed the intent after entering the building or after attempting to open a vault, it is not enough to earn the prosecution of a conviction. You need to have a goal of burglarizing a safe or vault before entering a structure.

Suppose you were apprehended inside a building before breaking or attempting to break into a secure place; in this case, your attorney could use a lack of intent to convince the prosecution to lower the charges. It is possible because most of the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant’s interest in committing a crime.

Another legal defense your attorney can put up to contest the charges includes a claim that the arresting officers engaged in police misconduct. If this is true, you can file a Pitchess Motion that allows the court to run some background checks and see if the officer has engaged in similar conduct in the past.

Similarly, your attorney could argue that you were entering the property to claim something that was already yours. However, you must demonstrate that you believed you had consent from the structure owner to retrieve your parcel.

Offenses Related to Burglary of a Vault/Safe

Even when you put up solid defenses to have PC 464 violation charges dismissed, you are still not off the hook. The prosecutor might find other crimes to implicate you even if the original charge is dismissed. Some of the charges you could face related to PC 464 include:

  1. Possession of Burglary Tools (PC 466)

California Penal Code Section 466 criminalizes having or possessing tools that can be used to crack or force entry into a secure structure, vault, or safe. The devices demonstrate that you had the intent to commit burglary, robbery, or theft. These tools include screwdrivers, crowbars, and pliers. If you were caught with burglary tools, you might be charged under both PC 464 and PC 466.

  1. Robbery (PC 211)

California Penal Code Section 211 makes it a crime to take another person’s property in their immediate presence using force or threats. If your actions demonstrate intent, you could be charged with robbery and PC 464 if you used intimidation, fear, or threats to take someone’s property. Robbery is a felony and carries no more than 6 years state prison incarceration if there are no enhancements.

  1. Trespass (PC 602)

Penal Code Section 602 outlines trespass as the entrance to someone’s property without authorization. You will end up with this charge if your attorney negotiates with the prosecutor to lower charges. Trespass is filed either as an infraction or misdemeanor, and it carries lesser penalties than PC 464.

Find a Theft Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you burglarize a safe/vault in Santa Ana and are apprehended, you will be subject to severe charges that you can’t afford to fight on your own. For this reason, Darwish Law is committed to challenging the charges on your behalf. Get in touch with us today at 714-887-4810 to schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense attorneys.