Burglary of a safe or a vault is a serious offense in California. When convicted, the offense carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison, which is a long time to serve behind bars.

Defending yourself through the court process presents the only hope of minimizing the damage of the offense on your reputation and possibly your freedom. Even in the chance that you are incarcerated, you could, with the right legal help, appeal the decision or request early release based on your behavior.

Orange County Criminal Lawyer is a reputable firm offering criminal defense services for defendants across Orange County. We represent your best interests by defending you during the court process, filing paperwork on your behalf, gathering the relevant evidence, and acting on your behalf during the criminal proceedings.

Overview and Legal Definition

California classifies different forms of theft based on the intent of the offender and the mode of execution, and location of the crime.

Burglary is one of the forms of theft crimes, further categorized into different forms of burglary, one of them being burglary of a safe or vault.

California Penal Code 464 defines burglary of a safe or vault as the offense of entering a building with the intention of committing a crime and using an explosive or torch to open a safe, vault, or another secure place.

The court will require the prosecution to prove the following elements of the offense to secure a conviction:

  • The defendant entered a building.
  • He or she attempted to open a safe, vault, or secure place while inside the building.
  • The defendant attempted to open the safe or vault using a torch or an explosive
  • The defendant entered the building with the specific intent to commit a crime.

These elements apply whether you entered the building at night or during the day or whether the building was a commercial or residential one. The charges will also apply for inhabited or uninhabited buildings.

Some of the devices that, if used to open a safe, vault, or a secure place, could lead to burglary charges include acetylene torches, gunpowder, explosives, oxygen lances, and tools that could cut through steel.

Unless these tools are part of your trade (legal), being found in possession of burglary tools could lead to the suspicion that you intend to commit burglary. The police will confiscate these tools if they find them during your arrest and will use them as part of the evidence against you.

Law enforcement officials typically respond to burglary calls fast. Most safes usually have a silent alarm to the police station that will alert law enforcement of attempts to bypass them.

The actions the police take at the crime scene will depend on whether the offender is still at the scene.

The police will arrest offenders at the scene immediately and take them into custody for booking and questioning.

The questioning process is part of the investigation, and the police will use the answers you provide against you. Therefore, they have to read your Miranda rights and avoid engaging in misconduct while questioning you.

If the police obtain a confession through methods such as force, coercion, promises for leniency or rewards, threats of adverse actions, or manipulation, your attorney can use police misconduct as a defense to request a motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence.

Penalties of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Burglary of a safe or vault in California is a felony offense with a state prison sentence of three, five, or seven years. The court will require that you serve about half of your prison sentence and pay fines and fees related to the offense. The fines for the offense could be as high as $10,000.

However, you could secure probation right from the onset, which helps you avoid custody. Felony probation typically lasts up to five years in California; therefore, you could successfully have a lesser sentence and half your freedom.

You could also serve your jail sentence under the California realignment program, which diverts people convicted of less serious felonies to serve their time in jail instead of going to prison.

Additional consequences of a conviction for burgling a safe or a vault include:

  • Lifetime loss of your rights to own or possess a firearm
  • Immigration consequences for non-citizens
  • Suspension of your professional license

If you cooperated in any way with the defendant, you could be charged with crimes such as:

  • Conspiracy to commit burglary of a safe or vault.
  • Receiving stolen property (for instance, if the offender brings you the safe to help him or her break it)

Legal Defenses

Burglary of a safe or vault in California is charged as a felony. This means that you will spend time in prison if you are convicted of the offense. To prevent this or to have lesser charges, you need to present a defense strategy.

You can use several defenses to fight charges of burglary of a safe or vault, including:

1.      Mistaken Identity

Unless you are caught while breaking into a safe or vault, the prosecution relies mostly on circumstantial evidence such as witnesses or suspicious people at the crime scene.

Mistaken identity cases arise from:

  • Incorrect witness identification
  • False accusations
  • Descriptions matching that of the witness

Most burglary cases require witness identification, especially where the offender did not leave additional evidence such as fingerprints or DNA materials at the crime scene.

These witnesses could provide inaccurate descriptions based on the circumstances, for instance:

  • The distance between the witness and the suspect
  • The lighting at the time the witness saw the suspect.
  • The manner of the investigating officers when questioning witnesses or doing lineups, for example, if the police pressure the witness, they are likely to identify just anyone to relieve themselves of that burden.
  • Familiarity with the witness
  • Racial differences (people have greater difficulty of noticing the differences between people of a different race)
  • How much time has passed between the crime and the witness identification will affect the memory of the witness
  • Weapons the offender could have carried distract the witness into paying more attention to the weapon than to the offender
  • The mental state of the witness at the time (intoxication or stress will affect the reliability of the witness)

Criminal defense attorneys rely on thorough witness cross-examination, an examination of the circumstances surrounding the lineup process, and the use of alibis to prove to the court that you are not the person who committed the offense.

2.      False Accusations

False accusations of a crime could arise due to mistaken identity or due to another person's malice. Other reasons that could lead to false accusations include:

  • A desire for revenge by the accuser
  • Envy
  • As a cover-up of the guilt of another person

False accusations are as damaging, except that you will be paying for a crime you never committed. Our law firm helps you avoid these consequences by proving that you are innocent of the alleged crime.

We present alibis, witnesses, and other evidence to prove your innocence.

3.      Mistake of Fact

Burglary of a safe or vault is a crime that requires intent. However, if your mental state at the time did not constitute intent, you could use the mistake of fact to defend yourself.

A mistake of fact could occur due to the following reasons in a burglary offense:

  • You had good faith belief that you had a right to the safe, building, or the secure area.
  • You had the consent of the owner to be in the building.

4.      Insufficient Evidence

When charging you with a burglary crime, the prosecution must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. It has to convince the jury that you did commit the crime based on the evidence available.

However, if it cannot produce enough evidence to prove your guilt, you cannot be convicted. At worse, you will get reduced charges or dismissal of your case.

For example, suppose the prosecution proves that you had burglary tools, but it cannot prove that you broke into a safe or intended to break into one. In that case, they could reduce the charges to the less serious offense of possession of burglary tools.

Developing a Defense Strategy

Developing a defense strategy is one of the most important activities you will engage in (after hiring an attorney). A strategy forms the action plan your lawyer intends to take and your role in facilitating this action plan to fight the charges you are facing.

A solid defense strategy combines legal elements, the facts of the case, and persuasion to get the prosecution to drop or dismiss your charges, acquit you or lower the charges you are facing.

Your criminal defense attorney will develop this strategy based on what the prosecution does. For example, if the prosecution builds its story around the idea that you intended to break into a safe or vault, your attorney will ask questions that lead to the idea that you did not intend to break into the safe.

This does not mean that your attorney will fabricate a story that exonerates you; instead, your attorney will base the defense on truth, sometimes negotiating a lesser charge or a plea bargain.

Both the prosecution and the defense will use similar facts to develop their stories. For example:

  • The prosecution will view your being at the crime scene to indicate that you could have committed the crime, while the defense could view it as a coincidence.

Sometimes the defense involves explaining the cause of the events in the defendant’s story.

During the defense, you could admit to all the accusations from the prosecution, deny all these accusations or confess to the crime.

Confession stories involve opening up about the whole crime to your defense attorney or the police.

A complete denial involves denying all the charges the prosecution has against you. For instance, if the prosecution is charging you with breaking into a house and stealing from a safe, a complete denial will involve asserting that you did neither of these activities. Most complete denial cases will involve alibis who can confirm your location as different from that of the crime.

Alternatively, you could admit and explain the events of the alleged crime. For example, you could explain that you had the keys to the house you are accused of entering and that you are not the person who broke into the safe.

Your attorney will use the information you provide to develop a criminal defense strategy. Even if you are innocent, the truth could sometimes leave you legally culpable of the offense or another offense. Therefore, the attorney will have to evaluate additional issues such as the credibility of witnesses to develop the theory of the case.

For instance, you could be innocent of burgling a safe or a vault, but the police coerced you into confessing to the crime and did not read your rights. Your attorney will file a motion to suppress the confession obtained through coercion.

He or she could further question witnesses to show that these witnesses are uncertain about the person they saw committing the offense.

Your attorney will involve you in the defense process by coaching you through:

  • Mock interviews to help you memorize the defense theory
  • Simulate your memories by tasking you to the crime scene
  • Requesting you to write your version of the crime

Most criminal cases resolve during the pretrial stage of the criminal process. Here, the prosecution and the defense engage in a series of negotiations, introduce evidence, and file motions to suppress evidence.

Plea-bargaining often takes place at this stage as well. The defense will review the evidence from the prosecution and determine the possible chances of a conviction and the likely outcomes. Your attorney will discuss these issues and possibilities to help you choose whether you prefer a plea deal or proceed to trial.

You could choose to proceed to trial, especially if you feel you have greater chances of a better outcome. Going to trial is risky, but could also lead to better outcomes if you are acquitted. Talk to your attorney about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Related Offenses

Depending on the circumstances of the crime and the mitigating and aggravating evidence in your case, you could be charged with additional or alternative crimes. Some of the crimes related to the burglary of a safe or vault include:

1.      Possession of Burglary Tools

California Penal Code 466 PC criminalizes possessing a burglary tool with the intention to commit burglary. Burglary tools for this law could include crowbars, screwdrivers, key bits, mater keys, picklocks, slide hammers, spark plug chips, slim jims, tension bats, and vise grip pliers.

The statute also defines burglary tools as 'other tools or instruments' which could create confusion as to what consists of these other tools and instruments. In most cases, the prosecution will press charges if the tool is similar to those used in committing burglary.

When charging possession of burglary tools, the prosecution must prove that you had the intent to commit burglary using these tools. Without intent, the prosecution cannot secure that conviction.

Your defense team could negotiate a plea bargain to possession of burglary tools if you are charged with burglary of a safe or vault. The plea deal will work if you were not caught breaking or having broken into the safe, but had the intent and tools to facilitate it.

For example, most officers will respond to a burglary offense within a few minutes, increasing the chance of catching you before you reach the safe or break into it. Therefore, they will rely on circumstantial evidence to secure the more serious conviction of burglary of a safe or vault.

Possession of burglary tools is a misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to six months and up to $1000 as fine. The conviction does not have adverse immigration consequences; neither will you lose your rights to own or possess a gun.

2.      Burglary

PC 459 defines burglary as the crime of entering a building or structure (even through an unlocked door) with the intent to commit a felony or another theft crime. A burglary conviction does not require that you actually commit the intended crime; just breaking into the building (residential or commercial) is enough.

Unlike burglary of a safe or vault, burglary charges apply only if you break into the building or structure at night.

The prosecution could charge you with first or second-degree burglary depending on the circumstances. First-degree burglary involves burglarizing a residence. Residences include inhabited houses, rooms within inhabited houses, and inhabited hotel room, or an inhabited boat, floating home, trailer, or portion of any building.

First-degree burglary is always a felony offense in California with a sentence or two, four, or six years in state prison (or felony probation) and a fine not exceeding $10,000. First-degree burglary is a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Charges for second-degree burglary will apply if you burglarize a commercial building. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler offense. if charged as a felony, the penalties include formal probation, up to three years in  jail, and fines not exceeding $10,000.

Misdemeanor burglary includes penalties such as summary probation, up to a year in county jail, and up to $1000 in fines.

3.      Trespassing

Trespassing is the crime of entering a person’s property without their consent. It could include other prohibited acts such as:

  • Entering another person’s property intending to damage that property
  • Entering a person’s property to interfere or obstruct business activities in that property
  • Entering and occupying another person’s property without the owner’s consent
  • Refusing to leave a person’s property upon request

Criminal trespass is a complicated crime, which could be an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

Trespass becomes an infraction if you willfully enter someone’s land without consent while the land has a fence around it or has signs prohibiting trespassing in intervals of at least three miles.

Trespass as an infraction has penalties such as a 75$ fine for a first offense and a $250 fine for a second offense on the same land. A third offense on the same land becomes a misdemeanor.

Most trespass cases are misdemeanors with penalties such as misdemeanor probation or a sentence of up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1000.

Felony or aggravated trespass is a wobbler offense. The penalties for the misdemeanor charge include a county jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $2000. When charged with a felony, the penalties include up to three years in county jail or felony probation.

Your attorney could negotiate trespass as a plea bargain for burglary charges. The plea bargain will depend on the circumstances of the offense, but even if you are convicted of felony trespass, you will spend less time in jail.

Trespass is also a crime of moral turpitude; therefore, you need to consult with your attorney if you are considering trespass as a plea bargain to burglary of a safe or vault.

Trespass becomes a crime of moral turpitude if you do it with the intent to:

  • Damage another person’s property or interfere with their property rights
  • To interfere with the business on that property.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Burglary is a felony in California that could lead to a sentence of up to seven years in state prison. Being convicted of a burglary is damaging to your reputation, career, relationships, and in some cases, your residency in the US.

However, just because you are charged with the offense does not guarantee a conviction and a heavy sentence. You have the chance to fight these charges by hiring an attorney who will help you develop a solid defense strategy.

At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have perfected the art of preparing defenses that help us obtain the best results for our clients. We are realistic with our expectations of every base based on the circumstances.

While we understand the role outcomes other cases could have on your case, we evaluate every case on its merit, providing you feedback and services to reduce the impact of a conviction, avoid a conviction, or lessen the charge you are facing. Sometimes, our success is based on getting the most lenient sentence, such as probation instead of state prison time.

Call us at 714-262-4833 to schedule your free consultation today.

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