California theft laws are serious and seek to punish individuals the court finds guilty of theft crimes severely. Your crime of stealing someone’s property can quickly escalate from theft to burglary, depending on how you acted and what you intended to steal. One often the most serious offenses under theft crimes is burglary of a safe or vault, addressed under California Penal Code 464. You violate this statute by using explosives or a torch device to access another person’s vault or safe unlawfully. When you face charges under PC 464, evidence of a successful burglary is not necessary to obtain a conviction against you.
A conviction for a safe or vault burglary attracts a prison sentence of up to seven years, hefty fines, and sometimes formal probation. After serving your prison sentence, you must deal with the consequences of the criminal record arising from your conviction. Seeking the legal guidance of a skilled defense attorney is the only hope to minimize the damage caused by the offense. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we will investigate the facts of your case, protect your rights and guide you through building a defense against your charges in Los Angeles, CA.
Understanding Burglary of a Safe or Vault in California
California theft crimes is classified based on your intent, the mode of execution, and the location of the crime. Burglary is a theft crime involving breaking or attempting to break into another person’s property to steal something. Burglary is divided into different statutes. California Penal Code 464 defines a burglary of a safe or vault. If you use a torch or explosive to enter another person’s safe or vault, you could be arrested and charged under this statute.
The penal Code provisions require the prosecution to prove all the elements of the crime to establish your guilt under this statute. Understanding these elements is key in building a defense against your charges. The prosecution works with investigators and witnesses to obtain sufficient evidence to support each element. The elements specific to PC 464 include:
1) You Entered a Building Without Owners Authorization
A key element that a prosecutor must prove in your PC 464 case is that you entered the building. When you enter a building without authorization from the owner may indicate that you intended to commit a crime. When presenting the evidence on your entry into the building, the prosecution will observe several guidelines that show that your entry was illegal.
The main evidence the prosecutor can use to show your entry into the alleged building is the surveillance footage from the crime scene. Additionally, the testimony of witnesses who saw you enter the building is key. The prosecutor can proceed with a burglary charge regardless of the time of your entry to the building.
2) While in the Building, You Attempted to Open a Safe or Vault
Another essential element that must be clear to obtain a conviction for burglary of a safe or vault is that you attempted to break into a safe or vault. Proving your attempt to open the safe requires the prosecution to gather evidence showing your exact involvement. You must understand that Penal Code 464 charges can still result in a conviction even when your attempts to open the vault were unsuccessful.
Without evidence that places you near the safe, the prosecutor's claim that you attempted to enter the vault or safe will not be enough to obtain a conviction. The prosecution will try to avoid reasonable doubt by enlisting the services of a criminal forensic team to conduct further investigations and uncover your DNA or other physical evidence that can prove your presence at the crime scene.
3) You Used a Torch or Explosive to Open the Vault.
Evidence of the type of tools you used to open or attempt to break into a safe is a key factor in your case. Under this statute, a torch is any device that can melt the safe or its locks, making removing the contents easier. Any of the following devices could be considered a torch:
- Electric arc
- Thermal lance
- Burning bar
- Oxygen lance
Other hazardous tools used in committing a crime under POC 464 are explosives. Some commonly used explosives in breaking safes include dynamite, gunpowder, and nitroglycerine.
4) You Acted Intending to Commit a Crime
The last element the court requires before finding you guilty of burglary of a vault or safe is your criminal intention when entering a building where the safe was located. Proving that you had criminal intent is challenging for prosecutors. Therefore, they often work hard to show that you have no other purpose for being in the building. Additionally, owning the torches and explosives may further show that you entered the building to break the vault and steal its contents.
Sentencing and Penalties Under California Penal Code 464
Burglary of a safe or vault is a felony. A conviction for this offense attracts the following punishments:
- A prison sentence of three to seven years. The court could increase or reduce your prison sentence depending on mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The type of tool you used to enter the vault could be a key factor in determining your sentence.
- Fines of up to $10,000.
Formal Probation for Burglary of a Safe of Vault
After a felony or misdemeanor conviction in California, the court could impose a probation sentence. Probation acts as an alternative to spending your entire prison sentence behind bars. Felony probation lasts three to five years and is not offered to all defendants. Your attorney must negotiate with the prosecutors to obtain a probation sentence. Some factors that a judge could consider when awarding probation include the following:
- Your criminal history. California law is strict on repeat offenders. Therefore, if you have a substantial criminal record, the court may deny your probation request and mandate that you serve your full sentence.
- The degree of loss. Safes and vaults often house valuable property like jewelry or cash. The court might deny you probation if you caused a substantial loss to the victim.
- Degree of criminal sophistication. The court will gauge your criminal sophistication on the weapons or tools you used to commit the crime. Additionally, your tactics to avoid capture could spell this fact.
Although probation saves you from prison, the sentence is accompanied by a strict set of conditions you must follow throughout the probation period. Some common conditions of felony probation for your burglary conviction include the following:
- Community service
- Regular check-ins with your probation officer
- Payment of victim restitution
- Curfew rules
- Mandatory attendance in counseling programs
- Avoid committing other crimes while on probation
- Random drug testing
If you violate one or multiple conditions of probation, you risk facing charges for probation violation. The burden of proof required in a probation violation hearing is lower than that required for criminal case proceedings. If the court finds that you violated your probation terms, you could suffer the following outcomes:
- Reinstatement of your probation with harsher conditions.
- Revocation of probation and reinstatement of your original prison sentence.
- Probation revocation with the reinstatement of the maximum prison sentence for your crime.
Legal Defense Against Penal Code 464 Charges
Burglary of a safe or vault is a serious felony. After a conviction, you could face a lengthy prison sentence, among other harsh penalties. You can seek to reduce the charges or dismiss the case by using these defenses:
Lack of a Criminal Intent
Before you face a conviction for violating California PC 464, the prosecution must prove that you entered the safe or vault intending to commit burglary. Proving criminal intent is a challenging task for prosecutors. If the evidence of your intentions of entering the place is unclear, your charges could be reduced to second-degree burglary, which can attract lesser charges.
If you did not touch the safe or did not attempt to open it, you could be charged with possessing burglary tools under PC 466. Possession of burglary tools is a misdemeanor punishable by a six months jail sentence.
No Vault or Safe
You will face an arrest and charges under PC 464 if you enter or attempt to enter a safe or vault to commit burglary. By proving that the alleged structure was not a safe or vault, the court could reduce your charges to burglary, whose maximum sentence is three years.
Sometimes, a prosecutor’s case against you is based on false accusations. A person could bring false accusations under this statute with anger or envy against you. Additionally, the perpetrator of the offense could attempt to cover up their actions by blaming you. False accusations can be very damaging since you risk serving prison time and paying fines for a crime you did not commit.
Fighting false allegations for a burglary of a vault or safe is challenging. Therefore, you must not underestimate the importance of hiring a skilled attorney. Your defense attorney can help you uncover the false allegation scheme by providing evidence of your alibi or presenting witnesses who saw you at a different location when the crime was committed.
Unless video or photographic evidence shows you entering the vault or safe, the prosecution will rely on circumstantial evidence or witness testimony to prove that you violated Penal Code 464. Cases of mistaken identity could arise from the following situations:
- False accusations
- Incorrect witness identification
In cases where an offender does not leave additional evidence like DNA or fingerprints, the prosecution will base their arguments on witness identification. A witness could mistakenly identify you as the offender based on the following:
- The distance between the suspect and the witness.
- Lighting at the time of the crime. Most theft crimes occur during the night. Therefore, accurate identification of the offender by the witness could prove challenging.
- The time between the criminal act and witness identification could affect the witness’s memory.
- Pressure from the police to identify a particular person.
- The witness's mental state could affect their reliability.
- Weapons carried by the offender could distract the witness from paying attention to the facial appearance.
Thorough cross-examination of the witness and assessment of the circumstances could help prove that you are a victim of mistaken identification.
When establishing your guilt for burglary of a safe or vault, the prosecution must establish all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Each element must be successfully accompanied by physical or circumstantial evidence. If one of the elements is unclear, the toy can plant reasonable doubt in the prosecutor’s case. A reasonable doubt in your case means that you cannot face a conviction under this statute.
When prosecutors realize their case against you is not enough to obtain a conviction, they could reduce your charges to a lesser offense like possessing burglary tools.
Mistake of Fact
The burglary of a safe or vault requires you to have criminal intent. If your mental state does not constitute an intent, you can argue a mistake of fact. A mistake of fact arises when:
- You had good faith belief that you had a right to enter the safe
- You believed that the owner consented to you entering the building
Even when you are suspected of committing a serious crime like burglary of a vault, law enforcement officers must follow the law during the arrest and investigations. Any evidence collected through a violation of your rights is inadmissible in court. Common forms of police misconduct include:
- Plating of evidence
- Illegal searches
- Coerced confessions
Expunging a PC 464 Conviction
Expungement is a court process that helps you avoid the disabilities of your criminal conviction. When you face a burglary conviction, the conviction will remain on your record even after serving your prison sentence. Since criminal convictions are public records, individuals who do a background check on you can find the conviction and use it against you.
If you were convicted under PC 464 and meet the sentencing and probation requirements, you could petition the court to expunge your record. For an expungement, the court opens your case and sets aside the guilty verdict. Although expungement will not erase the conviction from your record, employers and other individuals cannot legally discriminate against you based on an expunged record. Additionally, you are not obliged to disclose the conviction.
You can expunge a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. However, not all individuals are eligible for expungement relief. Before you petition for an expungement, you must obtain all your court documents to familiarize yourself with your case. Obtaining your records from the Department of Justice Criminal Record Review could cost up to $25.
You are only entitled to an expungement if you meet the following criteria:
- You do not have pending criminal charges
- You have successfully served your probation. The court could sentence you to formal probation for burglary of a vault or safe as an alternative to prison time. Therefore, you must have completed your times and followed the conditions before petitioning for an expungement.
- You did not serve time in state prison
- You do not have outstanding court orders
You must file a separate petition for each case if you have multiple convictions.
The process of filing for expungement has several steps, which include:
- Obtain and complete the forms. Your criminal defense attorney will help you gather all the documents needed for a successful record expungement.
- File the petition. You can present the petition before the court when you complete the paperwork for expungement. Expungement of your felony conviction could take four to five months.
- Attend the hearing. The court will rule on your expungement based on the nature of your charges, the status of your probation or parole, and your ability to keep a job. If the court grants the expungement, you will receive a written notice indicating a dismissal of your charges. However, if the court denies your petition, you can make the necessary changes and file again.
Offenses Related to Burglary of a Safe or Vault
Even when you succeed in contesting your PC charges, the prosecution could use the evidence they have against you to build a case on the following related offenses:
Under California PC 459, you commit burglary when you enter a building intending to commit a felony or other theft crimes. Unlike PC 464 charges, you will be charged with burglary when you break into a building at night. The court will reach a guilty verdict in your burglary case when the prosecutor establishes the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You entered a building, a room within a structure, or a locked vehicle
- You entered the building or vehicle intending to commit a felony or a theft crime
- You stole property worth more than $950
- The building you entered was not a commercial establishment
Burglary is classified into first and second degree depending on the nature of the place you entered. Entering a residential property to commit a felony attracts first-degree burglary charges. On the other hand, unauthorized entry into a commercial establishment to commit a crime will result in second-degree burglary charges.
The penalties you face for a burglary conviction vary based on the degree of the crime. First-degree burglary is a felony punishable by a prison sentence ranging from two to six years and fines that do not exceed $10,000.
When charged in the second degree, commercial burglary is a wobbler. The offense can attract felony or misdemeanor charges based on the circumstances. A felony second-degree burglary attracts a prison sentence of up to three years. As a misdemeanor, commercial burglary will cause you to spend a year in county jail.
Possession of Burglary Tools
California Penal Code 466 makes it a crime to possess tools to commit a burglary. Some of the items that could suffice as burglary tools include:
- Master keys
- Spark plug chips
- Tension bars
- Vise grip pliers
- Slide hammers
In addition to proving that you had these tools, the court requires the prosecution to provide sufficient evidence of your felonious intent. The prosecution satisfies this element by showing that you entered a building or vehicle using these tools.
When you face charges for burglary of a safe or vault, a lack of evidence to prove your intent to open the safe could cause the prosecution to reduce your charges to possessing burglary tools. A conviction under PC 466 is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
You can face an arrest and charges for trespass when you enter another person’s property without their permission. Acts that constitute trespass under California law include entry into another person's property to:
- Damage the property
- Obstruct their business activities
- Occupy the property without consent
- Failure to leave the property when asked to do so
Trespass can be charged as an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony, depending on the specifics of your case. Most trespass cases attract misdemeanor charges, and a conviction will attract a six months jail sentence and up to $1,000.
Find a Reliable Theft Crime Defense Attorney
Safes and vaults are often used to store valuable items, large amounts of cash, or highly confidential documents. If you use a torch or explosive to break into another person’s vault, you risk facing an arrest and charges for burglary of a safe or vault. Under California PC 464, the prosecution could bring charges against you even when your attempt to steal the items in the vault is unsuccessful. Burglary of a safe is a felony whose consequences go beyond spending time behind bars. A felony conviction in your criminal record can impact your relationships and professional life.
Fortunately, not all arrests under this statute will result in a conviction. You can present various defenses to seek a reduction of your charges or dismissal. California burglary laws are complicated and legal guidance is key. Your choice of a legal representative could significantly impact the outcome of your criminal case. You will benefit from the top-notch legal guidance we offer at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney if you or your loved one battles charges for burglary of a safe or vault in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.