Penal Code 18720 PC is the California law that makes it a felony to possess materials for the purpose of making a destructive device. A conviction carries a penalty of up to 4 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.00. A destructive device is a bomb or other explosive.
The language of Penal Code 18720 states:
“Every person who possesses any substance, material, or any combination of substances or materials, with the intent to make any destructive device or any explosive without first obtaining a valid permit to make that destructive device or explosive, is guilty of a felony…”
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. A few common ones include showing that:
- an accused did not intend to make a destructive device,
- a defendant had a valid permit to make a destructive device, and/or
- law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in state prison (as opposed to county jail) for up to four years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “possession of destructive device materials”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for a Penal Code 18720 PC violation?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “possession of destructive device materials”?
A district attorney must prove the following to successfully convict a defendant under 18720 PC:
- the defendant possessed a substance or material, or a combination of substances and materials, and
- when the defendant possessed those items, he/she intended to make an explosive or a destructive device.1
A person “possesses” a substance or material if he/she has control over it or the right to control it, either directly or through another party. The person does not need to personally hold or touch a substance to possess it.2
For purposes of this statute, a “destructive device” means any of the following weapons:
- any projectile containing explosive material, including the type of ammo known as “ tracer ammunition,”
- any bomb, grenade, explosive missile, or similar device, or any device for launching such a weapon,
- any weapon greater than 0.60 caliber that fires fixed ammunition,
- any rocket, rocket-propelled projectile, or similar device of a diameter greater than 0.60 inches,
- any breakable container containing a flammable liquid with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less and with a wick or similar device capable of being ignited, or
- any sealed device containing dry ice or other chemically reactive material that is assembled for the purpose of causing an explosion.3
An “explosive” or explosive device means either:
- any substance or combination of substances whose main purpose is to detonate or rapidly combust, and which is capable of a relatively instantaneous or rapid release of gas and heat, or
- any substance whose main purpose is to be combined with other substances to create a new substance that can release gas and heat rapidly or relatively instantaneously.4
Examples of explosives include (but are not limited to):
- fulminate of mercury, and
- picric acid.5
Note that the language of PC 18720 specifically states that a person is not guilty of this crime if he/she has a valid permit to make a destructive device.6
2. Are there legal defenses?
People accused of a crime under this law have the right to challenge the accusation with a legal defense. Three common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they did not intend to make a destructive device.
- they had a valid permit to make an explosive device.
- a peace officer conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
2.1. No intent to make a destructive device
Recall that people are only guilty under this statute if they possessed destructive device materials with the intent to actually make a device. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to show that he did not possess explosive device materials with an intent to make a device.
2.2. Valid Permit
Recall, too, that people are not guilty of violating this law if they possessed destructive device materials and had a valid permit to make these devices. A defense, then, is for accused people to show that they had a lawful permit.
2.3. Unlawful search and seizure
Defendants can challenge a charge under this statute by showing that they were arrested after the police conducted an unlawful search and seizure. Searches and seizures are unlawful when police perform the acts without a valid warrant or a legal excuse for not having one. If a defendant can show that a search and seizure was invalid, then a judge can reduce or drop any criminal charges filed against the defendant.
3. What are the penalties for a Penal Code 18720 PC violation?
A violation of this code section is a serious felony in the State of California.7
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in state prison for up to four years, and/or
- a fine of up to $10,000.8
Note that a judge can award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation in lieu of prison time.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to possessing destructive device materials. These are:
- possession of a destructive device – PC 18710,
- weapons of mass destruction – PC 11418, and/or
- bullet containing an explosive agent – PC 30210.
4.1. Possession of a destructive device – PC 18710
Per Penal Code 18710 PC, possession of a destructive device is the crime where people possess a “destructive device,” like bombs, grenades, and explosive missiles.
Note that the term “destructive device” under this statute carries the same definition as used in PC 18720.
4.2. Weapons of mass destruction – PC 11418
Per Penal Code 11418 PC, weapons of mass destruction is the crime where people possess, manufacture, or acquire any weapon of mass destruction (WMD).
As with a charge under PC 18720, a defendant can contest a charge under this statute by showing that law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
4.3. Bullet containing an explosive agent – PC 30210
Under Penal Code 30210 PC, a bullet containing an explosive device is the crime where people make, import, sell, give, or possess certain types of ammunition or bullets that contain a dart or an explosive agent.
Unlike with violations of PC 18720, prosecutors can charge violations of this law as either misdemeanors or felonies. A felony conviction is punishable by a prison term of up to three years.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside, San Diego, Irvine, and San Bernardino County.
- CALCRIM No. 2579 – Possession of Materials to Make Destructive Device or Explosive. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition).
- See same. See also People vs Azevedo (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 235.
- California Penal Code 16460 PC.
- CALCRIM No. 2579. See also California Penal Code 16510 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 18720 PC.
- See same.
- See same. See also California Penal Code 1170 PC.