Jim Porter: Are pliers considered burglar’s tools? (opinion)
September 22, 2016
Can I be convicted of being in possession of burglar's tools for merely having some good old fashioned wire cutters, pliers, in my backpack along with a pair of jeans (stolen from Sears)?
Like maybe I forgot to take the pliers out of my backpack after working on my car.
Shoplifting at Sears
On October 13, 2004, loss prevention officers at a Sears in Yuba City watched a juvenile, H.W., whose name is protected because he's a (guilty) minor, enter the store with a backpack that looked empty.
H.W. was "looking around very suspiciously." I'm not sure what the difference between looking around "very suspiciously" and "carefully looking around to see what I may want to buy" is, but that is what the crime report recited.
H.W. was observed removing the antitheft tag from a pair of jeans using wire cutters. He then put the jeans in his backpack and left the store without paying for them. H.W. had no wallet, no money, no credit cards and no identification. H.W. was not planning to pay for those jeans.
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Theft with Burglary Tools
H.W. was convicted of shoplifting and possession of burglary tools. The minor challenged the burglary tools conviction claiming he just happened to have some pliers in his backpack when he entered the Yuba City Sears without any money and ended up with jeans in his backpack as he left the store – where he was arrested.
Here's how I'd tell H.W.'s story: "I'd been working on my pickup and must have left some pliers in my backpack, when I went into Sears and tried on some jeans. The antitheft device must have fallen off and I didn't like the jeans, so I put them in my backpack to put them back on the shelf, but completely forgot they were in my backpack when I left the store and all of a sudden to my shock and surprise I was arrested for, of all things, shoplifting and possession of burglary tools. I didn't do nothing judge."
Burglary Tools Include Spark Plugs and Crows
You didn't know that burglary tools include spark plugs and crows, did you?
Here's Section 466 of the Penal Code which essentially defines burglary tools: "Every person having upon him or her in his or her possession a picklock, crow, keybit, crowbar, screwdriver, vice 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 is defined in the Vehicle Code … is guilty of a misdemeanor."
So does Section 466 mean that if I have a pet crow and walk into Sears I can be guilty of a misdemeanor?
I'm going to have to be more careful with what I take with me shopping.
I Had Pliers Not Spark Plugs
H.W. is a creative minor. He argued that he had wire cutters in his backpack, not burglary tools. And, as H.W. pointed out, pliers are not listed in Section 466. Not guilty, right?
By the way, I know you're begging to know why porcelain spark plugs are considered a burglary tool. The answer is, as a police detective testified: "thieves often use pieces of ceramic spark plugs to shatter car windows because that method makes very little noise." Now you know. I hope you don't care.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the obvious legislative purpose of Section 466 includes tools that are possessed with the intent to be used for burglary. It is clear in this case that H.W. intended to use the pliers for the purpose of committing a theft inside the store.
He wasn't going to pay with his good looks, and he had no money, so, the pliers were for the burglarious purpose of stealing the jeans. Burglarious, I like that.
As such, the wire cutters met the intent of Section 466 and H.W.'s conviction of possessing burglary tools was upheld (as was his theft charge, which he did not appeal).
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.