California has complicated laws that define theft crimes. For instance, a crime can escalate from regular theft into burglary depending on whether a defendant uses forcible entry, unlawful entry without force, or attempted forcible entry. Moreover, specific Penal Code Sections prohibit particular types of theft crimes. Under Penal Code 464, it is illegal to burglarize a safe or vault using explosives or a touch device like an electric arc, burning bar, or oxygen lance. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand different types of burglary and can help you fight your charges to achieve the best possible outcome.

Generally, the courts penalize burglary crimes based on the specifics of a case, like how a defendant committed the offense. When charged under Penal Code 464, the court will not consider breaking and entering as a separate crime. However, the concept of “breaking and entering” helps prosecutors build a case against you and establish the elements of burglary of a safe or vault.

Burglary of a Safe or Vault — Penal Code 464 Defined

Penal Code 464 criminalizes the burglary of a safe or vault. The statute specifies that it is a criminal offense to break, open, or crack a safe or vault using a torch or explosives. The commission of the crime typically involves the defendant entering a building with the intent to attack the safe and steal its contents.

It does not matter whether the building in question is a residential or commercial property or whether it was occupied or not during an incident. Also, the prosecution will consider the “breaking and entering” as part of the means used to commit burglary under Penal Code 464. Note that the legal definition of “burglary” is to enter into someone else’s property or attempt to do so.

There are facts the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction under Penal Code 464. These elements include:

  • The accused entered a building
  • The defendant attempted to or successfully opened, broke, or cracked into a safe or vault.
  • During the commission of the crime, the accused used explosives or a torch device to crack the safe
  • The accused had the specific intent to break into a safe or vault

Here is a detailed breakdown of each of the elements of Penal Code 464:

Entered a Building

The prosecution must prove that you gained illegal entry into a building. The mode of entry shows you trespassed into another person’s property or used illegal means to gain unauthorized access.  This proves you had criminal intentions irrespective of whether you used force or sneaky ways to find your way into the room containing the safe or vault.

Under general theft crimes, some provisions distinguish the proper punishment for a crime based on whether it happened during the day or night. However, the time of day or night does not matter when it comes to burglary of a safe or vault.

 Intent to Break into a Safe or Vault

Proving criminal intent is often an uphill task, even for seasoned prosecutors. A competent attorney will ensure that the court drops or reduces your charges if the prosecutor cannot prove your intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution can prove your intent based on your actions before or after entering a building. For instance, footage showing that you entered a building right before the closing hours and hid in the washrooms shows you deliberately ensured no one else was around. Sneaking around to ensure you do not get noticed is also sufficient to point out your unlawful intentions.

Other means the prosecution can use to prove criminal intent include the witnesses' accounts or evidence gathered by the police. For instance, criminal intent becomes evident when a burglar knocks down the guard, disarms them, and ties them up to restrict their movement. The items found in the accused’s possession, like lethal weapons or vault-breaking tools, can also help to establish criminal intent.

Attempted or Successfully Opened or Broke Into A Safe or Vault

It is also necessary for the prosecution to prove that you attacked the vault or safe. You are guilty of burglary of a safe or vault irrespective of whether your attack on the vault failed or bore the intended outcome.

Unless the authorities discover footage that shows you breaking or attempting to break into a safe, it can be challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you and not any other person committed the crime. The prosecution can eliminate doubt by tabling reports from forensic experts. For instance, a fingerprint or hair follicle can place you at the crime scene, making you a prime suspect.

Other sources of evidence the prosecution can present to show your actions include images of the safe after the attempted or successful break-in. These images must be consistent with the alleged means you used to commit a crime. For instance, if footage shows you made several attempts to enter combinations and break a vault’s code, your attorney must raise questions if the images of the safe after the burglary show the culprit used explosives.

The Accused Used Explosives or a Torch Device

For the prosecution to obtain a conviction under Penal Code 464, it is crucial to prove the means used to open, break or crack a safe or vault. The statute explicitly describes the crime as burglarizing a safe or vault using explosives or a torch device.

A torch device is any tool that can smelt the safe or its locks, making it easier to open it and remove its contents. It could be an electric arc, oxygen lance, burning bar, acetylene torch, thermal lance, or any other device that can burn through a metallic or concrete vault. On the other hand, explosives can include dangerous elements like gunpowder, dynamite, or nitroglycerine.

It is common for the prosecution to work closely with the investigations team and witnesses to establish all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The failure to prove all elements satisfactorily means that the prosecutors have a weak case. A competent attorney will always take advantage of the situation to obtain reduced charges, a reduced sentence, or even an acquittal.

 Penalties for Violating Penal Code 464

Penal Code 459 criminalizes burglary. Under the general burglary laws, the prosecution can impose first-degree or second-degree burglary charges depending on where the accused committed a crime. When the location is a residential building, the offense falls under first-degree burglary, which is always a felony. On the other hand, the prosecution imposes second-degree burglary charges when the location is a business premise or store. The latter charge is a wobbler that can attract misdemeanor or felony charges depending on whether the burglarized building was inhabited.

Under Penal Code 464, it does not matter whether the burglarized building was a residential or commercial setting. Other aspects the prosecution typically considers when dealing with general burglary cases, like the time an incident occurred and the means used to gain access to a building, also do not matter. Burglary of a safe or vault is always a felony.

If convicted for violating Penal Code 464, the punishment includes:

  • A state prison sentence of 3 to 7 years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Formal Probation

The judge can decide whether a defendant must serve a prison sentence or can reform by undergoing formal probation. This is the most lenient sentencing option a judge can consider. It allows you to return home and lead a reasonably normal life while still adhering to probationary terms and conditions.

Some of the aspects the court must consider before imposing formal probation include:

  • A defendant’s criminal history
  • The degree of financial losses suffered by the victim(s)
  • The arming of the accused when committing an offense and the level of sophistication portrayed

Felony probation programs typically run for up to 5 years where the defendant remains under the supervision of a court-appointed probation officer. Breaking any set probation terms can force a judge to revoke probation and send you back to prison to serve the original jail sentence or an enhanced sentence.

Some of the probationary terms the court can impose are:

  • Mandatory attendance in counseling programs
  • Community service
  • Paying restitution to the victim(s)
  • Curfew rules
  • Submitting to unscheduled drug tests if the root of the crime was drug abuse
  • A commitment to steer clear of committing other crimes while on probation

Best Defenses to Fight Penal Code 646 charges

Prosecutors use polished tactics to piece up facts under Penal Code 464 and present the most solid case possible. However, competent criminal defense attorneys will have mastery of the best legal defenses to raise reasonable doubt and have a case dismissed. When there are little or no acquittal possibilities, the lawyer will still look for loopholes that can see your charges or sentence reduced.

Some of the best defenses a criminal defense attorney can use include:

No Intent

The prosecution must establish that you entered a building with the “specific” intent to burglarize a vault or safe. If you had other intentions, it is possible to face second-degree burglary charges where the offense can be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Also, the prosecution can lower the charges and prosecute you under Penal Code 466, possession of burglary tools. This would be a possibility if you were caught before touching the safe. Violating Penal Code 466 is a misdemeanor with a penalty of only 6 months in county jail.

No Vault or Safe

The prosecution can not impose felony charges under Penal Code 464 if the structure you burglarized is not a secured place like a safe or vault. Again, the argument can have the charges reduced to burglary under Penal Code 459. If you enter into an unoccupied commercial setting, the punishment will include a maximum of 3 years imprisonment.

No Explosives or Torching Devices

Moreover, an offense only attracts Penal Code 464 charges and penalties if a defendant uses explosives or a torch device. Therefore, the prosecution can only impose a lesser charge if the accused entered a vault by guessing the combination or using tools like screwdrivers or crowbars.

Police Misconduct

The police must follow the law during investigations, arrests and interrogations. Any evidence gathered while violating your rights cannot be used in court. For instance, your attorney can file a motion to suppress any evidence gathered during an illegal search of your property. Likewise, a confession obtained through coercion is inadmissible in court.

Accusations of police misconduct often trigger investigations into the suspect officers. Any record of past complaints can quickly force the court to dismiss the entire case.

Mistaken Identity

Burglars often try to cover their faces and ensure they cannot be identified on surveillance footage. Unless you are caught red-handed, there is always a chance that the police caught the wrong person. If the prosecution is relying on the accounts of an eyewitness, your attorney can argue mistaken identity based on aspects like the lighting at the time the witness saw the suspect or even the distance between them.

Other aspects that can point out the possibility of mistaken identity include:

  • The familiarity between the witness and the accused can influence their judgment during a lineup
  • Coercive techniques employed to force “witnesses” into pointing someone in the lineup to relieve themselves of being considered possible suspects
  • Racial differences
  • Aspects that could affect or impair a witness's memory, e.g., intoxication at the time of an incident or the time that has elapsed between a crime and witness identification.

Insufficient Evidence

It is not enough for the prosecution to prove “some” of the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Even the failure to prove criminal intent can have a case dismissed or the charges reduced. A reliable criminal defense attorney will always attack any weak spots of a case to ensure the defendant enjoys the best possible outcome.

False Accusations

Sometimes, the prosecution can build a solid case based on false accusations. It could be that the alleged victim has a personal vendetta against you, is jealous, or attempts to use the falsified charges to cover up their guilt of another offense.

Your lawyer can prove your innocence by providing evidence like an alibi or witnesses who saw you at a different location when an alleged crime was taking place. It is also possible to establish factual innocence by proving that the prosecution has based its case on contradicting or misleading evidence.

Fighting Penal Code 464 charges is challenging, and you must not underestimate the importance of hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney. It is also imperative to ensure that your lawyer of choice has extensive experience and a proven track record of achieving favorable outcomes when fighting burglary charges.

Related Offenses

Proving that you did not violate Penal Code 464 is not a guarantee that the court will drop the case and allow you to go home. Depending on the facts unveiled during investigations and interrogations, the prosecution can impose the following charges instead of or alongside burglary of a safe or vault.

Burglary — Penal Code 459

As defined under Penal Code 459, Burglary is the offense of entering a structure or locked automobile with the intent to steal or commit a felony. A defendant doesn't need to have used force to enter the building or a locked car. Moreover, you can face burglary charges as long as you enter the structure, even if you fail to accomplish the mission of stealing or committing a felony.

Depending on the type of structure you break into, violating Penal Code 459 can attract first-degree or second-degree charges. The crime is always first-degree burglary and is charged as a felony if the building is a residential structure. If it is a business premise or store, the prosecution will impose second-degree burglary charges and charge the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony.

The prosecutors must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to charge you with burglary under Penal Code 459:

  • You entered a structure or locked automobile
  • You had the intent to steal or commit a felony

The prosecution must also prove that any of the following is true:

  • You intended to steal property worth more than $950
  • You entered a residential setting
  • You entered a commercial setting outside the usual business hours

If a crime constitutes first-degree burglary, a conviction attracts the following punishment:

  • Incarceration in state prison for 2, 4, or 6 years

The penalty for a second-degree burglary conviction includes:

  • A 1-year county jail sentence for a misdemeanor conviction
  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years for a felony conviction

Robbery — Penal Code 211

As described under Penal Code 211, Robbery is the felonious taking of someone else’s property that is in their direct or immediate presence. The statute further describes the crime as committing the offense of stealing but with the use of force and fear and against a victim’s will.

The elements of robbery are as follows:

  • The defendant took property that belonged to someone else
  • The property was in the direct or immediate possession of the victim
  • The accused took the property against the victim’s will
  • The defendant accomplished theft by use of fear or force to dissuade the victim from resisting
  • The accused intended to deprive the victim of their property permanently or for long enough to deny them of a significant fraction of its value

Like burglary, violating Penal Code 211 can attract first-degree or second-degree robbery charges. The prosecution will impose first-degree robbery charges if:

  • An incident takes place in an inhabited residential building, trailer, or boat
  • The victim is a driver or passenger in any transport means for hire, like a taxi, subway, or trackless trolley
  • The incident happens during or right after a victim uses an ATM

The legal definition of an “inhabited” building is a structure where someone lives. It does not matter whether the occupant(s) is present during the incident or not.

Second-degree robbery is any type of robbery that cannot be classified as first-degree robbery.

Robbery is always a felony whether the prosecution imposes first-degree or second-degree felony charges. The main difference between the two is the penalties a defendant will face.

A first-degree robbery conviction is punishable by:

  • 3, 4, or 6 years’ incarceration in state prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,000


  • A sentence of up to 9 years in state prison if a crime is committed in concert with two or more defendants

If you are convicted of second-degree robbery, the punishment will include:

  • A state prison sentence of 2, 3, or 5 years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

California has unique rules that apply specifically to robbery cases. For instance, one defendant can face multiple counts of robbery depending on the number of victims present in the inhabited structure or vehicle. For instance, if you enter a house and use fear or force to silence the maid and steal the contents of a safe in its owner’s immediate presence, you will face the penalties of two counts of robbery.

Also, robbery cases can be subject to sentence enhancement if an incident leads to the great bodily injury of a victim. The judge will add the following penalty to the original sentence:

  • An additional jail sentence of 3 to 6 years

The exact charges a prosecutor can impose instead of or alongside Penal Code 464 will highly depend on the facts of a case and the circumstances leading to an arrest. Other crimes closely related to the burglary of a safe or vault includes:

  • Possession of burglary tools — Penal Code 466
  • Possessing destructive devices — Penal Code 18710
  • Trespass — Penal Code 602
  • Possessing destructive device materials — Penal Code 18720

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If the police arrest and charge you with burglary of a safe or vault, you must immediately exercise your right to an attorney. At the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are well acquainted with the complex California burglary laws. We can help you gain an in-depth understanding of the charges you face. Our expertise also allows us to devise the best strategies to fight your charges, depending on the facts of a case. We know what to expect in court and how to approach each trial phase to have maximum chances of achieving a desirable outcome. For more information about Penal Code 464 charges or to speak to an experienced attorney, call us at 951-946-6366.