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PC 466: Possession of “Burglary Tools”

Posted in Burglary on July 6, 2018

The California Penal Code sets forth certain rules about criminal acts in California and their commensurate punishments. For example, the Penal Code contains laws about assault, battery, robbery, theft, and homicide, among other violent and non-violent crimes. One section, PC 466, addresses the use of burglary tools and details the punishment for the crime. Consider what PC 466 entails, what constitutes a “burglary tool,” and potential defenses to the crime.

What Is Penal Code 466?

Penal Code, or PC 466 prohibits any person in California from possessing burglary tools when criminal intent exists. The term “burglary tools” may encompass any implement that a person might use to commit a burglary. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Pliers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Pick locks
  • A master key to a motor vehicle
  • A “slim jim”
  • A crowbar
  • Any implement that an officer or prosecutor deems fit for committing the crime of burglary, usually one of the 15 listed in the Penal Code.

However, it’s important to understand that mere possession of these items is not enough to charge a person with a crime. Instead, a prosecutor must show compelling evidence that a person possessed, made, altered, or attempted to make or alter a tool with the intent to commit a crime. Under another relevant code, Penal Code 459, a person commits burglary when he or she enters a dwelling or vehicle with the intent to commit a felony or petty theft. In other words, it’s a person’s intention that determines whether possession of any of these tools constitutes a crime.

What Is Criminal Intent?

Perhaps the most important aspect of PC 466 is whether a perpetrator had “criminal intent.” In other words, a person could lawfully possess every item listed in 466 and not face any charges if he or she did not have intent to commit a burglary. How does a prosecutor prove this? Usually, by using circumstantial evidence at the scene. This type of evidence does not directly point to a person’s guilt, but a reasonable person could infer it from the circumstances.

For example, say that the police apprehend a subject who tries to evade a traffic stop. Upon investigation, they find a crowbar, a sledgehammer, and a pair of pliers in the vehicle. This alone is not enough to prove criminal intent. However, if the police officers also find black ski masks, hooded sweatshirts and a switchblade – common items in a robbery – they may be able to establish criminal intent.

Possible Defenses to a PC 466 Violation

On the other hand, many possible defenses exist to the violation of PC 466. Some of the most common include:

  1. The Items Are Not Burglary Tools

Under California law, only 15 items have an explicit designation as burglary tools, including some of those listed above. If the tools in a defendant’s possession do not meet the criteria of burglary tools, he or she should not face conviction of the crime, even if criminal intent seems clear.

  1. Criminal Intent Did Not Exist

Simply, if criminal intent does not exist, the crime does not exist. Many of the burglary tools listed above have a legitimate purpose. A person could possess every burglary tool listed on the code, but it is not a crime unless the prosecution can establish criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

  1. Burglary Tools Subject to Illegal Search and Seizure

Finally, if the police obtained the evidence of burglary tools illegally, it represents a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Any evidence obtained illegally is inadmissible in court.

PC 466 outlines basic rules for burglary tools, but only under certain conditions. Failure to establish criminal intent will likely lead to a dismissal of charges under California law.