California Burglary of a Safe or Vault
Penal Code 464 PC

California Penal Code 464 PC describes a form of California burglary that can be referred to as:

  • Burglary of a safe or vault;
  • Burglary with explosives; and/or
  • “Safe blowing” or “safecracking.”1
open-safe
Burglary of a safe or vault occurs when someone uses particular methods to open a safe after entering a building with criminal intent.

Burglary with explosives occurs when someone:

  1. Enters a building with intent to commit a crime (such as grand theft or petty theft) once inside; and
  2. Opens or attempts to open a vault, safe or other secure place using a torch or explosives.2

The legal definition of safe blowing/burglary of a safe or vault

The complete legal definition of burglary of a safe or vault under PC 464 is as follows:

  1. You entered a building;
  2. While inside the building, you opened or attempted to open a vault, safe or other secure space;
  3. The opening or attempted opening was by use of a torch or explosives; and
  4. At the time when you entered the building, you had the specific intent to commit another crime.3

Example: Diego works for a bank. He and his friend Scott devise a plan to rob the bank by entering it late at night and using a torch to break into its vault.

After midnight Diego uses his knowledge of the bank's security system to help them enter the bank. Then he stands guard while Scott uses the torch to open the vault. They steal the cash that is inside.

Diego and Scott are guilty of burglary of a safe or vault—as well as conspiracy to commit burglary of a safe or vault, and grand theft for stealing the money.

For purposes of California's burglary with explosives law, it doesn't matter whether the building was inhabited or uninhabited, or whether you entered it during the day or the night.4 (This is different from California burglary law, which prescribes different penalties for burglary of a residence than for burglary of a non-residence.5)

burglar-opening-window
To be guilty of burglary with explosives, you generally need to commit the crime of burglary first.

However, it is crucial that you actually enter the building. If you try to open a safe or vault without having first entered a building intending to do so, you are not guilty of this offense.6

Example: Melissa breaks into a house when the owners are not home and steals some jewelry and a safe, which she suspects contains valuable items.

Melissa does not know how to open the safe. So she calls her friend Ella, who has a head for this kind of thing. Ella comes to Melissa's house and successfully opens the safe with a torch. They find cash inside, and Melissa splits the cash with Ella.

Ella is not guilty of Penal Code 464 safe blowing because she never entered the burgled house. (But she can be charged with Penal Code 496 PC receiving stolen property.)

Also, the act of entering a building and the act of opening or attempting to open a safe must be two separate acts. You must first enter the building and then open or attempt to open the secure space.7

Example: Gabriel uses a torch to cut a hole in a side steel door into an electronics store. He enters through the hole and steals merchandise.

Gabriel is guilty of ordinary burglary—but he is not guilty of burglary of a safe or vault, because he used a torch to enter the store in the first place (rather than first entering the store and then using a torch or explosives to open a further secure space).8

welding-torch
A welding torch can be used to commit the crime of safe blowing.

For purposes of California's burglary of a safe or vault law, a “torch” means an acetylene torch or electric arc, burning bar, thermal lance, oxygen lance or other similar device capable of burning through steel, concrete or any solid substance.9

“Explosives” means nitroglycerine, dynamite, gunpowder or any other explosive.10

PC 464 penalties

Penal Code 464 PC burglary with explosives / safe blowing is a felony in California law.11

The potential penalties include:

In addition, burglary of a safe or vault is a deportable crime—which means that special care must be taken if you are a non-citizen charged with this crime.13

Legal defenses against charges of safe blowing/burglary with explosives

hand-opening-combination-lock-on-safe
You are only guilty of burglary of a safe or vault if you entered a building with intent to commit a crime.

One of the most common legal defenses is that you did not enter the building with the specific intent to commit a crime once inside.

According to San Diego criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse14:

“You are only guilty of burglary of a safe or vault if you first entered a building intending to commit a crime once inside. Note that it is not enough if you had the intent to commit a crime when you attempted to open the vault—the intent needs to have been there already when you entered the building.”

Burglary defendants are often caught inside a building before any crime has been committed, and prosecutors often need to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove specific intent.

When such intent is hard to prove, a defendant may be able to plea bargain down to a lesser offense, like Penal Code 466 PC possession of burglary tools.

Call us for help…

friendly-call-center-personnel

For questions about the crime of Penal Code 464 PC burglary with explosives, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

For more information on Nevada burglary laws, please see our page on Nevada burglary laws.

Additional Resources:

Los Angeles Police Department Burglary Prevention Tips

San Diego Police Department Business Robbery and Burglary Prevention

Legal References:


1 Penal Code 464 PC – Burglary with acetylene torch, etc., or explosives; punishment. (“Any person who, with intent to commit crime, enters, either by day or by night, any building, whether inhabited or not, and opens or attempts to open any vault, safe, or other secure place by use of acetylene torch or electric arc, burning bar, thermal lance, oxygen lance, or any other similar device capable of burning through steel, concrete, or any other solid substance, or by use of nitroglycerine, dynamite, gunpowder, or any other explosive, is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for a term of three, five, or seven years.”)

2 Same.

3 California Jury Instructions – Criminal (“CALJIC”) 14.60 – Burglary with Explosives. (“In order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved: 1. A person entered a building [either by day or night, inhabited or uninhabited]; 2. That person [while inside the building] opened or attempted to open any vault, safe, or other secure place; 3. The opening, or attempted opening, was [by use of acetylene torch or electric arc, burning bar, thermal lance, oxygen lance, or by any other similar device capable of burning through steel, concrete, or any other solid substance] [,] [or] [by use of nitroglycerine, dynamite, gunpowder, or any other explosive]; and 4. At the time of the entry, that person had the specific intent to commit the crime[s] of .[The crime of is defined as follows: (define crime or crimes).]”)

4 Same.

5 Penal Code 460 PC – Burglary degrees [compare to legal definition of burglary of a safe or vault]. (“(a) Every burglary of an inhabited dwelling house, vessel, as defined in the Harbors and Navigation Code, which is inhabited and designed for habitation, floating home, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code, or trailer coach, as defined by the Vehicle Code, or the inhabited portion of any other building, is burglary of the first degree. (b) All other kinds of burglary are of the second degree.”)

6 CALJIC 14.60 – Burglary with Explosives, endnote 3 above.

7 People v. Cardwell (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 876, 879. (“As we explain, Cardwell's burglary conviction must be reversed because section 464 unambiguously requires a defendant first be inside “any building” before using an acetylene torch (or similar device, as provided in the statute) to open or attempt to open a “vault, safe, or other secure place” as provided in section 464.”)

8 Based on the facts of the same.

9 CALJIC 14.60 – Burglary with Explosives, endnote 3 above.

10 Same.

11 Penal Code 464 PC – Burglary with acetylene torch, etc., or explosives; punishment, endnote 1 above.

12 Same.

See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies [such as safe cracking/safe blowing], in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)

13 Immigration & Nationality Act (“INA”) 101, 8 USC 1101(a)(43) - Definitions ("(43) The term" aggravated felony "[a deportable crime] means-- . . . (G) a theft offense (including receipt of stolen property) or burglary offense for Which the term of imprisonment at Least one year [such as burglary with explosives]; . . . .”)

14 San Diego criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse is the founder and Managing Attorney of Shouse Law Group. He served five years in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, prosecuting more than 60 criminal trials with an astonishing 96% success rate in felony jury trials to verdict. Mr. Shouse has experience with everything from minor DUI cases to serious theft crimes like safe blowing.

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