Burglary, a grave theft crime under the law, occurs when a person enters a structure without authorization to commit a crime. You can commit burglary in many ways, including the burglary of safes or vaults. This occurs when you open or access a secured space using explosives or a torch without authorization, with the intent to commit a crime. It is a serious felony, punishable by a lengthy sentence and a court fine.

We can help you fight burglary charges at Monterey Criminal Attorney if you are falsely accused, do not have criminal intent, or have authorization to access the secured place. Our attorneys use the best legal defense strategies in Monterey to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients' cases. We can cause the court to reduce or drop your charges.

Legal Meaning of Burglary and Burglary of Safes or Vaults

Burglary is a theft crime that happens when you access a commercial or residential structure or a locked vehicle without the owner’s permission and with the intent to commit petit larceny, grand theft, or any other felony offense. The offense is complete when you enter the said structure with criminal intent, even if you do not complete the intent (commit a felony). It is unnecessary to force your way into the structure or vehicle for the prosecutor to file burglary charges. Accessing it with a key or simply walking into an open structure or vehicle can result in burglary charges, as long as your actions satisfy all the other facts of the crime.

The law against burglary in safes or vaults is under Penal Code 464. You violate this law once you enter a building without authorization, plan to commit a crime, and use an acetylene torch, explosive, or a similar device to forcefully unlock a secured space (like a vault or safe). If the prosecutor files charges against you under this law for entering a commercial building, you must have entered the premises during office hours. A residential structure must be inhabited for the charges to apply.

The police, prosecutors, and judges take burglary charges seriously, especially PC 464. They will do everything possible to obtain a guilty outcome after the trial. Since the prosecutor bears the burden of proof, they will table evidence and use compelling statements to demonstrate all offense elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are the elements that constitute the legal meaning of this offense:

  • You entered or otherwise accessed a commercial or residential structure.
  • While inside, you opened or attempted to unlock a secured space like a vault or safe.
  • You forcefully used a torch or other explosive to open the secured space.
  • Your intent from the beginning was to engage in crime.

Remember that it does not matter whether the structure is inhabited, empty, commercial, or residential. The prosecutor will file burglary charges under PC 464 as long as your actions satisfy all the other facts of the crime. The main component of this case is that you accessed a particular structure while planning to commit a crime. The offense is a felony with varying penalties depending on precisely what you intended to steal after opening the vault or safe. If you want to steal something valued at $950 or more or a firearm, your penalties will likely be graver than if the amount is less.

Note: The prosecutor will still file charges even if you did not access the secured space. Attempting to open or access the safe is enough to obtain a guilty outcome after a trial.

Here is an explanation of these elements:

Entering a Structure

PC 464 is burglary-related. Therefore, it happens when you enter a commercial or residential structure with criminal intent. This is the first element the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Entering the structure does not necessarily mean your entire body is inside the structure. You can access a building using a body part, like your hands. Stretching one hand to reach a secured space can result in criminal charges.

The prosecutor will use any evidence to demonstrate that you entered the structure. For example, they can use surveillance cameras or eyewitness testimonies to support the charges. The image must be clear for it to be admissible in court. Otherwise, a skilled attorney can challenge it, leaving the prosecutor with insufficient evidence against you.

The time you enter or otherwise access the structure will not influence the outcome of your case. Some burglaries happen in broad daylight, while others occur at night. Your charges still hold regardless of the time.

The criminal Intent

The district attorney must also demonstrate your criminal intent to obtain a guilty verdict. Recall that a burglary only occurs once you enter a structure planning to engage in crime. A person’s intent is challenging for prosecutors to prove. But that does not mean that it is impossible. The district attorney can deduce your intent from your actions. For example, the DA can bring an eyewitness to verify that you communicated your intent before entering the building. Surveillance footage can also support the prosecutor’s account of events.

For example, CCTV images that show your actions after entering the building can demonstrate your initial intent. If you are seen checking around to verify that no one is around before sneaking into a structure, the district attorney can use that to demonstrate your intent to commit a crime inside the structure. The DA can also use what the police found in your possession to prove your intent. For example, if you had an explosive, a torch, or anything else used in burglary and theft, the DA could use them to demonstrate that you had prepared for the burglary.

Opening or Trying to Open a Secured Space

PC 464 is specific to the burglary of safes or vaults. These refer to any secured space inside a structure or building where people keep valuables. Since most of these spaces are secured, anyone intending to steal valuables must open or break into them first to access them. PC 464 requires you to use force or attempt to use force to open or access a secured space. If you knew the safe combination or tried to use a combination to open the safe, a jury cannot find you guilty under this statute. However, the district attorney can file charges under a separate law, depending on the circumstances of your case.

The success of your plan is irrelevant because an attempt to break into the secured space can also result in a conviction. Also, the judge cannot pass a guilty verdict under this statute until you break into or try to unlock a safe. The prosecutor will also require evidence to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. They can use surveillance recordings or forensic evidence to obtain a guilty verdict.

A Torch or Explosive

A violation of PC 464 occurs when you forcefully open a secured space. The law is particular about the kinds of tools that, when used, can result in a conviction. These tools include a torch or explosive. This is because they are powerful enough to break the structure or concrete that keeps safes or vaults safe.

Possible Punishment for a Violation of PC 464

PC 464 is a straight felony. Your penalties will be grave once the judge declares you guilty of your charges. The possible penalties include:

  • Felony probation
  • Seven years in prison
  • Court fines amounting to $10,000

The judge could place you on probation instead of a prison sentence. However, you could be required to serve a part of the sentence behind bars and the remainder in freedom. Felony probations last between three and five years. The court will put you under the guidance and supervision of a probation officer. The officer will work with you to ensure you serve your sentence well without violating the terms of your probation. The judge sets these terms according to the details of your case. For example, they could require you to meet regularly with your probation officer, not commit any crime during the probation period, and perform community service.

The judge could also order you to participate in drug and alcohol treatment if the cause of your crime was alcohol- or drug-related. Violating your probation is a serious matter that could result in additional criminal charges. The judge can revoke your probation and send you to prison for the required time under the law. You will also be required to pay all court fines and restitution (if applicable in your case).

Once you complete probation, you will be free to live your life. However, the conviction record will not go away and could impact your life for many years. Felony convictions can remain on your criminal record for more than seven years. They will continue to affect your life even after you serve your sentence. For example, the conviction could create challenges whenever you try to find a job, a place to rent or to run for public office. You could have difficulties making friends or maintaining relationships.

A conviction under this statute will also affect your gun rights. Felons cannot possess, use, or purchase firearms in California. If you enjoy hunting or keep a gun for security purposes, you will be expected to give it up after conviction. You could lose your gun rights temporarily or permanently, based on the circumstances of your case.

Additionally, a conviction under PC 464 can affect your immigration status, resulting in deportation and being declared inadmissible to the United States. Burglary of safes or vaults is a crime of moral turpitude, so its conviction can cause you problems with the immigration department if you are an immigrant.

Possible Legal Defense Strategies for Charges Under PC 464

A safe burglary is a grave offense with severe consequences upon conviction. In addition to a devastating prison sentence and an expensive court fine, you could suffer serious repercussions for life because of the life-changing criminal record a felony conviction leaves. But you can avoid these severe consequences by fighting your charges in court. A competent criminal defense attorney can assist you in putting up a solid fight against your charges so that the judge can drop or reduce the charges. Here are examples of defense strategies that can help your situation:

You Did Not Have The Intention to Commit a Crime

The jury will deliver a guilty verdict if the DA can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that you accessed a structure or building planning to engage in crime. Suppose you entered the building out of curiosity or developed the intent while in the structure; the judge can drop your charges. You need an aggressive attorney to counter the prosecutor’s claims and assure the jury that you lacked criminal intent when you entered the building.

Proving intent is one of the most significant challenges prosecutors face when prosecuting such cases. The judge can drop your charges without irrefutable evidence that you already had criminal intent when you entered the building.

The Building Did Not Have a Secured Space

You can only violate PC 464 by entering a structure or building with a secured space, like a safe. You must also know about the safe and intend to open it once inside. You must have this knowledge and intent even before entering the building. The jury cannot find you guilty if the building you entered does not have a safe, vault, or any other secured space. The court will drop your charges even if your actions satisfy all the elements of your offense.

However, the district attorney can file charges under a separate statute (like a burglary) if your actions satisfy the requirements of that offense.

You Did Not Have the Necessary Tools to Open a Safe

Recall that the district attorney must prove all facts of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty. The presence of an explosive or torch demonstrates your intent to open the secured space forcefully. It will be easier for the prosecutor to prove that intent if you have the tools to open the vault. Remember that this statute is particular about how this offense is committed. The court will drop your charges under PC 464 if you lack the required tools. However,. Depending on the specifics of your case, you could be guilty of a separate offense, like burglary or breaking.

The Arresting Officer Mistook You For the Perpetrator

Mistaken identity is common in criminal cases where the police cannot tell exactly who they should arrest. For example, suppose the police rely on surveillance videos or CCTV cameras. In that case, they can quickly arrest the wrong person because these technologies do not depict the person they seek. Instead, the police rely on the physical description and clothing of the suspected offender to make an arrest. If you have a similar physical appearance to the perpetrator or wear almost the same clothes, you can use this strategy to compel the judge to drop your charges.

A skilled attorney will bring additional evidence, like your alibi, to counter the prosecutor’s allegation. The judge would drop your charges if you were at a location different from the crime scene and could prove it in court.

You Had the Right to Access the Building

Remember that PC 464 is a burglary-related crime. This means you must have entered a structure without authorization, planning to engage in crime. If you have a right to enter the building or believe you have the right, you cannot be convicted of burglary. For example, if you worked in the building or your family owns it, you can cite a claim of right to compel the judge to drop or reduce the charges.

However, if you entered the building with criminal intent and had the tools to open a secured space, the DA can file theft-related charges under a separate statute. Even if the judge exonerates you from PC 464 charges, you could be guilty under a separate law if the prosecutor proves criminal intent.

The Police Misconducted Themselves

The police must respect defendants' rights, regardless of the gravity of their criminal charges. Sadly, that does not always happen. Cases of the police violating an individual's civil rights are rampant, especially after a criminal arrest. If you believe your rights were violated, you can bring them up in court for a favorable outcome during your trial.

The police are guided by stringent guidelines when making arrests and investigating criminal cases. For example, they must respect your right against self-incrimination by explaining your rights to an attorney and offering state counsel if you cannot afford a private one. They must also inform you of your charges and the evidence against you. The arresting officer must not use force, coercion, or tricks to obtain proof from you. Any evidence the police gather through a violation of your rights is inadmissible in court.

Thus, if the arresting officer fails to read and explain your Miranda rights after an arrest, you can use that to obtain a fair outcome for the case. If you incriminate yourself for not understanding your right to remain silent, what you say cannot be admitted as evidence in court. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also protects you against illegal search and seizure. If the police obtained evidence from you without a valid warrant, the evidence is inadmissible in court.

If all the evidence the prosecutor has was obtained through police misconduct, they cannot prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the court will drop your charges.

Related Offenses

Some crimes under the law are closely related to PC 464. The following are the most common of these:

PC 459, Burglary

Recall that PC 464 is burglary-related. Thus, its legal definition bears similarities with that of burglary under PC 459. According to the latter, a burglary happens when you access a building you cannot enter, planning to commit a crime once inside. You don't need to break into a building to commit a burglary. Entering an open building counts as long as you do not have authorization and have criminal intent. The prosecutor will also file charges even if you fail to commit the crime to which you intended.

You can face first-degree or second-degree burglary charges based on the circumstances of your case. First-degree burglary involves entering a residential structure, while second-degree burglary involves accessing or trying to access a commercial building beyond its operating hours. Criminal intent is a constant element in both charges.

The former is a straight felony, punishable by a six-year prison sentence. It is also a strike offense under the Three-Strike Law. The latter is a wobbler offense.

PC 466, The Possession of Burglary Tools

The law lists fifteen items you are prohibited from carrying that are believed to be used for burglary. The police can arrest and charge you under PC 466 if you have one or more of these tools. Having the tools creates an assumption that you intend to burglarize. These tools include key bits, picklocks, sledgehammers, vise grip pliers, master keys, screwdrivers, and tension bars.

As a misdemeanor, possessing burglary tools is punishable by a six-month jail sentence and a fine of $1000.

Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Burglarizing a secured space like a vault or safe is a grave offense in Monterey. It can result in a lengthy sentence, a high court fine, and a life-changing criminal record. However, you can obtain a fair outcome for the case if you put forth a solid defense against the charges.

Our team of skilled and competent attorneys at Monterey Criminal Attorney is highly recommended for handling burglary-related charges. We understand the legal process better to help you navigate easily. We also protect your rights against violations and remain by your side through the most challenging period of your life. We can use the most suitable defense strategies to fight your charges for a favorable outcome. Contact us at 831-574-1791 to start the legal process with us.