Penal Code § 466 PC makes it a crime to possess burglary tools with the intention of breaking into a dwelling, structure, automobile, or watercraft. Examples of burglary tools may include picklocks, crowbars, screwdrivers, and slide hammers. A conviction is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in the county jail and fines of up to $1000.00.
The full language of the code section states that:
466. Every person having upon him or her in his or her possession a picklock, crow, keybit, crowbar, screwdriver, vise grip pliers, water-pump pliers, slidehammer, slim jim, tension bar, lock pick gun, tubular lock pick, bump key, floor-safe door puller, master key, ceramic or porcelain spark plug chips or pieces, or other instrument or tool with intent feloniously to break or enter into any building, railroad car, aircraft, or vessel, trailer coach, or vehicle as defined in the Vehicle Code, or who shall knowingly make or alter, or shall attempt to make or alter, any key or other instrument named above so that the same will fit or open the lock of a building, railroad car, aircraft, vessel, trailer coach, or vehicle as defined in the Vehicle Code, without being requested to do so by some person having the right to open the same, or who shall make, alter, or repair any instrument or thing, knowing or having reason to believe that it is intended to be used in committing a misdemeanor or felony, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Any of the structures mentioned in Section 459 shall be deemed to be a building within the meaning of this section.
- having a screwdriver in a pocket while intending to break into a home.
- driving a car with burglary tools inside while the driver is planning to burglarize a home.
- walking in a neighborhood with criminal intent while carrying a slim jim in a backpack.
You can challenge a charge under this statute with a legal defense. Common defenses include:
- no intent to commit a crime,
- no burglary tools, and/or
- unlawful search and seizure.
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. When is possessing burglary tools a crime?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
- Additional resources
1. When is possessing burglary tools a crime?
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict you under this statute:
- you possessed a burglary tool, and
- you did so with the intent to commit burglary (per Penal Code 459 PC).1
The statute lists over 15 types of objects that are considered burglary tools. Some include:
- vise grip pliers,
- tension bars,
- master keys, and
- spark plug chips.2
In addition to the above, the law says that burglary tools can be “other tools or instruments.”
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:
- “intent,” and
- “other tools or instruments.”
Penal Code 466 says that a person must have “felonious intent” to be guilty of this crime.3 This means an intent to commit burglary.
You commit burglary if:
- you enter a structure or car, and
- you do so with the intent to commit a felony or petty theft once inside.4
Circumstantial evidence is often used to prove intent under this statute. This means facts from the case that can reasonably infer guilt.
Example: Police pulled Jim over for speeding. They asked if they could search his car and he said, “yes.” A search discovered a crowbar and a picklock.
Here, Jim cannot be charged for possession of burglary tools. While he may have had “burglary tools” in his car, there is no evidence that he had the intent to commit burglary.
The case would be different, though, if a search also discovered black sweatshirts, ski masks, walkie-talkie radios, binoculars, and a headlight. All this is circumstantial evidence that suggests Jim planned on committing a burglary.
1.2. Other tools or instruments
While PC 466 lists many objects that can be considered “burglary tools,” the law also states that these tools can be “other tools or instruments.”
Some “other tool” can be a burglary tool if it is similar to those mentioned in the statute.5
Example: Marcos is charged under this statute. Cops found him suspiciously walking near the door to a closed restaurant, and he possessed a box cutter knife and a slingshot. At trial, a police officer testifies that these items are similar to objects listed in PC 466. He also states that the objects can be used to commit a burglary.
Here, a jury can find Marcos guilty of possessing burglary tools. Although the objects he had were not listed in Penal Code 466, evidence shows that they are similar to them.
2. Are there legal defenses?
You may contest a possession charge with a legal defense.
Three common defenses are to show that:
- you did not have the intent to commit burglary,
- you did not have “burglary tools,” and
- the police found burglary tools after an unlawful search or seizure.
2.1. No intent to commit a crime
You are guilty under this statute only if you act with specific intent. This intent is the intent to commit burglary. It is a defense, therefore, to say that you did not act with this purpose.
2.2. No burglary tools
You are guilty only if you possessed a “burglary tool.” This means a tool mentioned in the law, or an object similar to one. Thus, it is a defense to say that you did not have a tool. Or, you did not have a similar tool or object.
2.3. Unlawful search and seizure
Police can only search you, or seize property, via a lawful warrant. Or, if no warrant, they must have a lawful reason for not having one.
If cops obtained burglary tools from an unlawful search or seizure, the tools can be excluded from the case. This may lead to a charge being reduced or dismissed.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of these laws is a misdemeanor.
The offense is punishable by:
- custody for up to six months in county jail (as opposed to state prison), and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.6
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A conviction under this statute does not harm your immigration status.
Some California crimes result in a non-citizen being:
An example involves a conviction for an aggravated felony.
Possession of burglary tools, though, is not one of these crimes.
5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
You can get an expungement if convicted under these laws.
This is true provided that you successfully completed:
- probation, or
- their jail term (whichever was imposed).
An expungement is favorable since it removes many of the hardships associated with a conviction.
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A possession conviction does not harm your gun rights.
In some instances, a conviction in California causes you to lose your right to:
- own a gun, or
- possess a gun.
An example is any crime that is charged as a felony.
Possessing a burglary tool, though, will not produce either of these results.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the possession of burglary tools. These are:
- trespass -PC 602,
- possession of prohibited weapons – PC 16590, and
- unlawful acts with keys and ignitions.
7.1. Trespass – PC 602
Penal Code 602 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of criminal trespass. You commit this offense if you:
- enter, or remain on, someone else’s property, and
- do so without permission or a right to do so.
Note that if you trespass with the intent to commit burglary, and you have burglary tools, then you can be charged under:
- PC 602, and
- PC 466.
7.2. Possession of prohibited weapons – PC 16590
Penal Code 16590 PC is the California statute that prohibits:
- selling, and/or
certain dangerous weapons.
These “generally prohibited weapons” include items like:
- brass knuckles, and
- short-barreled shotguns.
7.3. Unlawful acts with keys and ignitions
Several California laws make it illegal to do certain things or acts with keys and ignitions. Some of these include:
- Penal Code 466.5 PC – Possessing/manufacturing motor vehicle master keys,
- Penal Code 466.6 PC – Making car keys,
- Penal Code 466.65 PC – Possession of tools to bypass motorcycle ignition,
- Penal Code 466.7 PC – Unlawful possession of car keys,
- Penal Code 466.8 PC – Unlawful manufacture of residential or commercial keys, and
- Penal Code 469 PC – Unauthorized key to a state building.
For more in-depth information, refer to these scholarly articles:
- Do Statutes Criminalizing Possession of Burglary Tools Reduce Crime – Capital University Law Review.
- Persistence of touch DNA on burglary-related tools – International Journal of Legal Medicine.
- Criminal Law: Cumulative Sentencing for Offenses within a Single Transaction – University of Florida Law Review.
- Chapter 119: Bump Keys Break into the Penal Code – McGeorge Law Review.
- Burglary and Robbery Plea Bargaining in California: An Organizational Perspective – Justice System Journal.
- California Penal Code 466 PC. For a discussion on “possession,” see People v. Bay (2019) 249 Cal.Rptr.3d 506.
- California Penal Code 466 PC.
- See same. See also People v. Southard (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 1079.
- California Penal Code 459 PC.
- People v. Gordon (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 1409.
- California Penal Code 466 PC. See also Penal Code 19 PC.