You should never take any form of a burglary charge in California lightly. If you are accused, it means you’re facing possible severe penalties that include hefty fines, jail time, and even a damaged reputation. However, you can avoid all these if you have an experienced attorney by your side. If you are under arrest, do not rush into pleading guilty without first understanding what the law says and what options are at your disposal.

At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, our attorneys understand the statutes surrounding different forms of burglary and boast years of success and experience in representing the defendants facing these kinds of criminal charges in court. If you are facing any type of burglary charges in Los Angeles, contact us as soon as possible so our attorneys can advise you on your legal rights and options. In this article, we expound in detail about the California law on burglary of a safe or vault.

The Legal Meaning of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Penal Code (PC 464) of the California law sets forth a type of burglary that is known as burglary of a safe or vault, safecracking or safe blowing, or burglary with explosives. This offense takes place when a person enters into a building intending to commit an offense like petty or grand theft once he/she is inside and tries to open or opens a safe, vault, or any other secure space by use of explosives or a torch. The prosecution may build your case based on the fact that you tried to steal a vault/safe containing valuable items. 

Note that the vault/safe owner has a right to accuse you whether the building was occupied or not during the commission of the crime. The California statutes identify forceful entry into a property and trying to open or opening a safe or vault as distinct crimes.

Elements of the Crime

Elements of the crime are the facts that a prosecuting attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubt for you to be convicted of an offense. If you are charged with violating PC 464 laws, the prosecution has to substantiate the following elements before the court rules you guilty:

  • You entered into a building
  • When inside that build, you tried to open or opened a safe, vault, or any other secure place
  • The attempted opening or opening was through the use of explosives or a torch
  • When you made your way into the building, your specific intent was to commit another offense

For PC 464 law purposes, it does not count whether the building in which you entered was uninhabited or inhabited, or whether you made your way inside during the night or the day. This differs from burglary laws, which provide different punishments for burglary of an inhabited building (residence) compared to burglary of an uninhabited place (non-residence).

But you must enter the building for real. If you attempt to open a vault or safe without first entering a building with the intent to open it, then you aren’t guilty of burglary of a safe/vault.

For instance, Belinda breaks into a residence when its owners aren’t home and make away with a safe that she suspects has valuable items. Belinda doesn’t know how she can open the safe. Thus, she reaches out to her friend Kellie, who understands these kinds of things. Kellie comes to Belinda’s house and opens that safe, successfully using a torch. After opening, they find money inside, and Belinda shares it with Kellie.

Kellie won’t be guilty of burglary of a safe/vault since she did not, at any point, enter the burgled building. However, she could face PC 496 charges of receiving stolen property.

Additionally, the action of making your way into a building and that of trying to open or opening a safe have to be two distinct acts. You have to first enter into the building, then try to or open the secure place.

For example, Tim uses explosives to blow open a steel door to make his way in an electronic shop. He enters the shop through the space he made and makes away with merchandise. Tim can be found guilty of only ordinary burglary. He can’t be convicted of breaking PC 464 laws since he utilized explosives to make his way into the store, to begin with, instead of first entering into the shop then using explosives in opening a further secured place.

For PC 464 law purposes, a torch refers to an electric arc or acetylene torch, oxygen lance, thermal lance, a burning bar, and any other similar gadget that is capable of burning through concrete, steel, or any other solid substance.  On the other hand, explosives refer to dynamite, gunpowder, nitroglycerine, or any given explosive.

The Process of Arrest for a PC 464 Offense

Law enforcement responds quickly to any incident of burglary.  If you are a suspect, the officers will not hesitate to put you under arrest because a PC 464 offense is considered a felony under California law. However, they will investigate your case, evaluate proof, and approach eyewitnesses before they can apprehend you.

Usually, police officers initiate arrests for burglary offenses a few hours or minutes after the offense takes place. The process of apprehending a suspect may take days in case the suspect in question went into hiding after the commission of the crime. After they arrest you, the officers will take you to temporary detention, from where you will wait to be arraigned in court. Also, they will request you to hire a criminal attorney if you don’t have one or contact the one you have so he or she can assist you in fighting these charges.

Your Rights When Facing PC 464 Charges

California Section 24 Article 1 of the constitution highlights your rights if you are facing any criminal charges under the California law. The law provides that you are entitled to lawful representation and also that you have a right to a speedy, public trial. Additionally, you have a right to request eyewitness attendance as well as confront any eyewitnesses who are attesting against you. The other rights you have include the freedom to contest unreasonable seizures, fair punishment, and searches ^ privacy.

The Court Procedure for PC 464 Charges

Courts in California strict processes for criminal cases, which include burglary with explosives. The procedure in these cases includes arraignment, motions, pre-trials, and then trial. Solving your case may last for weeks to several months. Let’s expound on the stages involved when your burglary with explosives case goes to court.

  1. Arraignment

After you have been arrested, the California law provides that you must appear before the court. When you make this initial court appearance, the judge will read your charges to you.  You should expect the judge to ask you to plead guilty, not guilty, or enter a no-contest plea. You might be permitted to make bail, or you will be informed about the future hearings you will have during the arraignment.

  1. Pre-trial

The courts will use these hearings to evaluate your case’s progress. At this point, the court might decide to resolve any issues that come up relating to your case. The prosecution and your attorney may also be granted sufficient time to build their defense strategies.

  1. Motions and Readiness Hearing

Here, the judge may allow different legal motions once he/she has determined the kind of charges you are facing. When it comes to readiness hearings, the defendant and the prosecution get to notify the court if they are ready to proceed to trial. At this point, the judge could continue with or resolve your case.

  1. Trial

When your case goes to trial, you will have two trial choices. You can opt to go for a bench trial. A bench trial is whereby a judge decides what happens to your case. The other option of trial that is within the law is trial by the jury.  Here, it’s the jury that will determine whether to be convicted or be set free.

Penalties for PC 464

Violating PC 464 law is prosecuted as a felony offense. The possible consequences include:

  • Felony probation
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • Three, five, or seven years in jail courtesy of the California realignment program

Instead of serving time in prison for violating PC 464 laws, you will serve it jail thanks to the California realignment program. This program was signed into law in 2011. Its purpose is to lower the sentences of various defendants. Burglary defendants can benefit from this program whereby they will serve their time in jail rather than being detained in a California state prison, but their sentences will remain the same. That is three, five, or seven years.

Felony probation can otherwise be referred to as formal probation. It is a form of sentencing that’s meant for specific California felons. If your punishments include felony probation, you will serve your sentence entirely or partly in a designated community while being supervised. The felony probation program takes between three and five years. If you violate the terms of probation, the court may cancel your probation time then sentence you a prison or jail time.

Additionally, apart from the penalties mentioned above, violating PC 464 law is a deportable offense. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will see to it that you have been deported in case your offense is intense. Apart from being deported, you also risk being inadmissible. By being inadmissible, it means the DHS might prohibit you from entering into the United States after deportation, or they may revoke any of your citizenship application. Therefore, exceptional care has to be taken if you are an immigrant that is facing charges of this crime.

What the Prosecution Team Will Rely on to Develop Your PC 464 Case

The prosecution should provide evidence that you illegally made your way into a building with the intent to attempt to break into a safe or vault, or you succeeded in breaking into the safe or vault. They also have to establish that the building’s owner did not authorize your entrance into that construction, and the safe or vault was in a safe place. They should build their case based on your intent or acts to carry out the offense. Below, we explain four main elements that the prosecutor will use while charging you with burglary with explosives.

The Owner did not Authorize Your Entrance

Penal Code Section 464 considers making your way into a building or place that has been secured without any kind of permission as an offense. Authorization could include permission or approval the building’s owner gives you. In case you went into a commercial building, or a house intending to break a safe or vault, the premises’ owner has a right to accuse you if he or she does not recognize you. The prosecution may utilize legal documents showing the people authorized to enter into a given space.

The Incident Took Place in a Well-protected Place

Typically, vaults and safes are stored in a secure place to limit authorized access. Therefore, your offense qualifies to be burglary with explosives in case the prosecution can establish that you forced the restricted zone open. The prosecutor could rely on proof, for instance, camera footage that discloses that you performed the illegal act.  Vault/safe documentation and witness statements may also be used as proof.


The prosecution has to present evidence that you showed the interest of breaking a vault or safe before making your way into the secured place. For example, they could use security footage from the cameras that are at the scene of the crime showing how nervous you were. Also, they may charge you based on the methods you applied in accessing the area. The application of force, when breaking into the place, may show that you had the intent to force open the vault or safe.

Legal Defenses to PC 464 Charges

A prosecutor may use cunning and tactical means just to convict you of violating PC 464 law. Your attorney has to master their every effort and move by using particular legal defenses to counter them. In this section, we look at the various legal defenses your criminal defense lawyer may apply to beat your charges or have them lowered to a reduced offense.

One common legal defense to this offense is that you didn’t enter the construction with the particular intention to commit an offense once inside. Note that you will only be convicted of violating PC 464 law if you first made your way into the construction with the intent to commit a crime after getting inside. It isn’t enough in case you had the intention to carry out an offense when you tried to make force open the safe or vault. The aim needs to have existed already when you made your way into the building.

Defendants of a burglary crime are usually caught when in the construction before any offense has been carried out, and the prosecution often needs to base on circumstantial proof to show the specific intent.  When this intent becomes challenging to establish, a defendant might be capable of plea bargaining to get a reduced offense like PC 466, possession of burglary tools.

  1. Police Misconduct

Law enforcement officers may violate your rights in the process of arresting or solving your case. For instance, they may force you to confess, or they may conduct illegal searches of your property. Planting fabrication or planting may also be used to show police misconduct. If this happened in your case, your lawyer could bring a Pitchess motion about this legal defense. This motion permits the judge to decide whether or not the officer’s record has similar complaints lodged by other defendants in the past.

  1. Claim of Right

The legal defense of the claim of right can be applied when proving that you did not have the intention of breaking the safe or vault. Your lawyer may argue that you had entered into the premises to retrieve items that were legally yours. The lawyer may also claim that you had reason to believe the owner of the building authorized you to get your property.

  1. Mistaken Identity

Your attorney could use this defense in case there was misleading evidence or false allegations against you. Also, mistaken identity may be a legal defense when you want to prove your innocence against burglary with explosives charges. The prosecution may decide to lower or sometimes get your charges entirely dismissed if this defense is successful.

Related Offenses to a PC 464 Crime

Note that your freedom will still be at stake even if your attorney succeeds in contesting the prosecutor’s accusations against you. Remember that even if you are cleared of PC 464 charges, the prosecutor may find another crime that relates to burglary of a safe or vault of which to convict you. In this section, we look at the crimes the prosecuting team may charge you with instead of or in addition to violating PC 464. They include:

Burglary (Penal Code 459)

The statutes on burglary classify this crime into two categories. That is a burglary in the first degree and burglary in the second degree. A first-degree burglary takes place in an inhabited residence.

On the other hand, a second-degree burglary occurs in stores or establishments. A first-degree burglary crime is always charged as a felony. Its consequences include two, four, or six years in state prison, felony probation, and up to $10,000 in fines. Additionally, this offense qualifies as a strike crime as per the California Three Strikes Laws.

A second-degree burglary crime is a wobbler. This means the prosecutor can opt to charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony at his discretion. The penalties for a felony conviction include felony probation, a maximum fine of $10,000, and sixteen months or two or three years in an LA county jail. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction carries the following possible consequences: misdemeanor probation, a maximum of one year of a county jail sentence, and a maximum fine of $1,000.

Trespass (Penal Code 602)

California law defines a trespass offense as the illegal act of entering into another person’s property without authorization from that person. Your violation of PC 464 statute may be lowered to a trespass offense if your lawyer manages to successfully plea bargain with the prosecutor. Courts in California charge trespass as a misdemeanor or an infraction. They could sentence you under Penal Code 601, aggravated battery if, in the commission of your crime, you threatened the owner of the buildings or its inhabitants.

Possessing Burglary Tools (Penal Code 466)

Screwdrivers, crowbars, pliers, etc., qualify as tools of carrying out a burglary. Possessing these tools and any of those highlighted under Penal Code 466 with the specific purpose of utilizing them is considered a misdemeanor offense under California law. Also, PC 466 provides that it is unlawful to alter or make changes to a key that belongs to another party without consent from that party. The prosecution might allege that you violated Penal Codes 454 & 466 if you had tools to carry out a burglary at the time of your arrest.

Robbery (Penal Code 211)

Robbery involves the forceful taking of another person’s property that is in their immediate possession or presence. Your record may include Penal Code 464 burglary and robbery in case your acts were driven intent. These charges will still apply in case you used intimidation, force, or fear to steal an item. Under PC 211, robbery is charged as a felony. Its potential penalties include a maximum of five years in state prison.

Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Given the severity of a burglary of a safe or vault offense, it is critical that if you have been arrested, you seek advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. The lawyer may be capable of successfully arguing for your rights as well as proving that the prosecutor’s case doesn’t hold beyond a reasonable doubt. You must have a competent attorney by your side, especially if you are a non-citizen, to avoid facing deportation. If you are in this situation in Los Angeles, contact The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm at 310-935-1675 for quick, trustworthy, and confidential services.