Theft crime laws often impose hefty punishments for defendants found guilty of the crime. Among the different types of theft is the burglary of a safe or vault that includes unlawfully accessing another person’s vault with the intent to deprive the owner of the content inside the encasement permanently. Often, safes and vaults are useful in storing highly valuable material, including large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry. Additionally, some safe/vault owners may use them to store highly confidential documents that the general public should not access. Subsequently, breaking into the safe encasement is a severe offense that attracts harsh penalties to those found guilty of the crime.

Despite the work that investigation officers conduct after arresting a suspect, sometimes you may become a defendant in a burglary case unfairly. For example, if you face arrest without probable cause or with insufficient evidence to prosecute you, it is necessary to raise the court’s issues for a fair trial to ensue. While defending yourself is an option, we recommend hiring a skilled and experienced criminal attorney to take over your matter. With a resourceful attorney helping you handle the trial, you place yourself in a better position to receive a favorable case outcome. Therfore, getting in touch with a lawyer form the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is highly advantageous to anyone facing criminal charges in Los Angeles, California.

Understanding the Legal Definition of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

In standard terms, burglary involves breaking in or attempting to break in to steal from another person’s property. However, the California Penal Code provides the legal definition of the offense under section 464. Following the provisions, you are liable for arrest with burglary charges of a safe or vault if you enter a building intending to commit illegality to open the safe or vault.

Therefore, the penal code provisions lay out the prosecutor’s crime elements for dissection and analysis as he/she prepares to prosecute you during the trial. Since you will face criminal charges after the arrest, it is crucial to understand that the prosecutor must fully prove all the offense elements before the judge issues a verdict on your case.

Consequently, a prosecutor works hand in hand with investigation officers and witnesses who can provide credible and persuasive information before the judge or jury in your trial proceedings. If the evidence is overwhelming and proves your criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt, then you will face several sentencing options.

Conversely, you will receive a mitigated sentence or even a complete acquittal if the prosecutor fails to prove even one of the factors required to prove the crime. Hence, your lawyer should also prepare counterarguments and provide evidence to back your claims, aiming to discredit the prosecutor’s presentations. Eventually, your criminal defense lawyer’s efforts may pay off, meaning that you will receive a more suitable outcome. That said, the following are the elements of the crime that the prosecutor will attempt to prove:

1. You Entered into a Building

The first and most crucial element in the prosecutor’s matter to prove is that you entered the building in question. Here, the action of entering the building signifies your entry or trespass into an unauthorized premise, which already indicates the possibility of criminal intentions.

When providing evidence on your action to enter the building, the prosecutor will observe several guidelines that build on the extent to which entering is considered illegal concerning the crime. For example, the prosecutor can provide evidence against you regardless of whether the building you entered was inhabited or uninhabited. The underlying factor to show is that you did not have access to the building.

Moreover, the prosecutor may choose to dwell on the mode of entering you used. For example, he/she can provide evidence showing that you snuck into the building by merging in with other people who had free access to the premise. Alternatively, there may be sufficient evidence to show that you broke into the building by picking the lock or using other means of entry like open windows.

The primary sources of evidence to support the prosecutor’s claims come from surveillance footage collected from the crime scene. With the evidential backing, the prosecutor may have a smoother time with your case, as the footage is likely to show your face. However, suppose you had concealed your identity by wearing a mask or working on the surveillance camera blind spots. In that case, your attorney may challenge the evidence in earlier stages of your proceedings, like the discovery stage, to have the evidence discarded.

Additionally, it helps to note that the prosecutor may also rightfully proceed with burglary charges regardless of whether you entered the building during the day.  Commonly, penal code provisions in different jurisdictions distinguish different burglary types by setting harsher penalties for operations run at night. However, in cases involving a safe or vault, the charges remain the same regardless of the period of illegality.

Please note that entering the building does not necessarily mean that your entire physical body was inside the premises. Entering may include stretching your arms to reach the safe if it is easily accessible. Hence, the prosecutor does not have to limit himself/herself to showing proof of your presence inside the building, as long as it is feasible for you to use part of your body to engage in crime.

Lastly, the prosecutor must show that you entered the building, which is an essential factor in the entire criminal prosecution process. Entering constitutes the actus reus, the punishable illegal activity that a suspect must have engaged in for any criminal prosecutor to have standing.

2. You Intended to Commit Another Crime When Entering the Building

Further, the prosecutor should prove that you intended to commit another crime once inside the building, apart from breaking the premises. In this instance, the crime you will intend to achieve is theft from the safe or vault, as charged. While proving the actus reus or criminal activity element is relatively straightforward, the prosecutor must work carefully to establish your mens rea or criminal intent element fully.

Like physical criminal activity, proving the criminal intent is vital in a criminal case, as they are the two main elements present in every illegal operation. Therefore, you cannot face any penalties or sentences if the prosecutor fails to establish the factor of intent properly.

As a result, several proof sources must be present in the prosecutor’s presentation for a successful claim. Firstly, he/she may rely on the activities you engaged in moments before or after entering the building to infer your criminal intention. For example, suppose you scanned the premises to ensure that nobody else was around, or that nobody knew you were there. In that case, the prosecutor may infer your intent, as you will have demonstrated deliberate action not to get noticed.

Moreover, if you snuck your way around, you may have also avoided drawing attention from anyone else who may have been in the building. Thus, an unlawful intention suffices as a logical conclusion. In advanced cases, a defendant may also engage in violence or coercion to contain any witnesses on the premises when he/she breaks in. Thus, the suspect may tie up anyone near the vault or hit the person to immobilize him/her from seeking help.

Sources of evidence to infer on your intention also arise from witness testimonies, whereby a witness describes your behavior after you entered the building. Sometimes, the intent becomes apparent based on how you act or speak. If you demanded that the witness show you the vault location, or even coerced him/her to help you gain access, there would be sufficient proof of your intent.

Additionally, any information from police reports that is sufficient to prove your criminal intent is also available for the prosecutor’s use. For example, if the officers pointed out that you possessed weapons or tools commonly used to break into vaults or safes, you are answerable for the charges.

Since forming a criminal intent is a psychological state, the prosecutor may also go over your police statements or interrogation footage and transcribed documents. Analyzing your mode of answering questions during the investigations may reveal some loopholes that indicate you had formed a criminal intention before or when entering the building.

3. You Broke or Attempted to Break into a Vault or Safe

Another essential element to prove is that you broke or tried to break into the vault or safe in question. Please note that in this case, you may be guilty of the crime despite running an unsuccessful operation, hence the inclusion of attempts in the crime elements. Therefore, the directives give the prosecutor a more comfortable time during the trial, as you do not necessarily need to have gotten away with the crime.

Proving your unlawful engagement in breaking into the vault requires the prosecutor to gather valid proof that shows your presence and involvement in breaking into the vault or safe. Without evidence that places you and nobody else at the crime scene, the prosecutor leaves reasonable doubt that someone else may have committed the crime.

To avoid doubts, the prosecutor may obtain relevant information from the criminal forensic team under the appointed investigation authority. The team is responsible for conducting in-depth investigations related to physical evidence like fingerprints or hair follicles that are testable for DNA confirmation to determine who the suspect is.

 Consequently, if a forensic team was appointed to investigate the burglary, the prosecutor may hold overwhelming evidence that puts you on the spot for breaking or attempting to break into the unauthorized vault or safe.

On top of this, proof may also come from surveillance footage showing you trying to open the safe or vault. Depending on the types of tools you used to break into the storage vault, the prosecutor will also prove the method you used to break the safe or vault. The information becomes useful in establishing whether you were an amateur at committing theft or had received training from an undisclosed source on how to break the enclosures.

The methods you used to break into the safe or vault may also indicate your level of expertise in committing burglary crimes, leaving room for further questioning from the prosecutor on previous criminal activities. Your lawyer will advise you to avert the subsequent questions and will also step in to object on the grounds of irrelevance.

Also, the vault’s state or safe after your arrest serves as a reliable evidential source during the criminal trial. For example, if you tried to key in different safe combinations unsuccessfully, the prosecutor will use the circumstances to show your attempts to break into the safe and steal.

Moreover, he/she can present clear photographs to the judge or jury, showing the damages you caused to the vault or safe as you broke in. The absence of valuables previously in the safe storage system is sufficient to show that you broke the vault/safe and stole, leading to the arrest and prosecution.

4. You Used Torches or Explosives to Break into the Vault or Safe

Lastly, the prosecutor should show the types of tools you used to break into the safe or vault to conclude on proving your criminal activity.  Mostly, suspects use explosives or high-temperature torches for smelting the safe/vault locks away. Some of these tools are complicated, as they use chemical combinations to produce high temperatures. Therefore, they are easily identifiable, as not many people buy them regularly.

You may have used a torch to break into the safe or vault. Under section 464 PC, a torch may be any of the following appliances:

  • Oxygen lance
  • Thermal lance
  • Electric arc
  • Acetylene torch
  • Burning bar

Nevertheless, any other tools that can burn through a safe/vault’s concrete or metallic build are also admissible as evidence of a torch in court.

You may have opted to use explosives instead, which is a more dangerous choice. Some of the commonly used explosives in breaking into vaults are:

  • Dynamite
  • Nitroglycerine
  • Gun powder

It helps to note that the trial proceedings may also steer the case into questioning how you obtained the explosives or torches, as they are hazardous elements that are only for sale to authorized persons. Hence you should be prepared to answer the questions if they are relevant to the case.

Defenses for the Charges of Burglary of a Safe or Vault

Your criminal defense lawyer plays a vital role in presenting defenses for your case. If he/she makes sound legal arguments backed by relevant evidence, you will have a better chance of winning your case or receiving a mitigated sentence. Some applicable defenses include:

  • You did not intend to commit another crime when entering the building.
  • You face false accusations.
  • Police misconduct played a role in an unlawful arrest and prosecution.

Penalties for Committing Burglary of a Safe or Vault

The burglary of a safe or vault is a felony in California, leading to various harsh penalties for guilty parties. Once the prosecutor successfully proves his/her case against you, the judge will issue the final verdict and sentence you.

Typically, a criminal sentence includes various options that the judge may choose to issue at his/her discretion. Some of the possible penalties you may receive are:

Joining a Formal Probation Program

The judge may decide to sentence you to a probation program for reform. The sentence is a more lenient option than spending time in prison, as you get a chance to return home. However, the probation imposes several conditions and requirements on you, meaning that you will face some restrictions.

Most probation sentences last for three to five years, meaning that you will be under close supervision for the entire duration. Additionally, the judge appoints a probation officer who will supervise and oversee the program to ensure you follow the rules. Consequently, you must report to the probation officer periodically for tracking progress.

Some of the requirements you will have to fulfill while on a probationary sentence include:

  • Attending counseling sessions with a professional therapist
  • Participating in community service activities
  • Paying restitution to the crime victim
  • Committing to avert breaking any other laws during the probation period
  • Submitting to random drug tests, especially if your crime engagements involved drug abuse before breaking into the vault or safe

Since you will be under mandatory orders to meet all probation requirements, violating them will attract severe consequences. For example, the judge may revoke your probation term and charge for your imprisonment in state prison. Also, he/she may enhance your sentence to include harsher conditions like extending the sentence duration.

Imprisonment Sentences

Alternatively, you may receive a prison sentence, ordering you to serve a three to seven-year sentence in state prison. The judge may enhance or reduce the duration to the minimum number of years if your case includes reasonable mitigating circumstances.

Payment on Fines

Lastly, the judge may also order you to pay fines of up to $10,000.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

After an arrest for burglary of a safe or vault, you may face serious repercussions that can affect your future. For example, you may spend a significant amount of time in prison. Also, your criminal record will be proof of your past criminal engagements, leading to limited opportunities. Therefore, you want to fight off the charges as best as you can, to avoid dealing with the stressful outcomes. With the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer team, you can present a strong case against the prosecutor. Our years of practice in criminal defense have shaped us into a reliable and professional team of attorneys who are happy to help clients who need legal services in Los Angeles, California. To get in touch, call us at 310-502-1314.