Possession of Criminal Tools Attorneys

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 What Is an Instrument of Crime?

If you have been arrested for criminal possession of a tool, you might be confused. You are even more likely to be confounded if you were arrested for having tools such as a hammer that is lawful to maintain when not classified as “criminal tools.”

Unfortunately, having criminal tools is one of those vaguely-worded crimes like “Loitering” and “No Visible Means of Support” that are highly subject to police and prosecutor abuse.

The phrase “criminal tools” is so obscure that it can refer to anything from a machine gun to chewing gum sticks barring a keyhole slot. How do you understand if your charges are fair?

Some criminal acts, such as burglary, may require using some instrument to finish the crime. A person possessing the tools can be charged with a criminal act. An instrument of crime, or tool, is anything made or adapted specifically for criminal use. The object is sometimes called derivative contraband or burglary tools.

What are Examples of Criminal Tools?

Criminal tools include things like:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Drill bits
  • Lock picking devices
  • Bolt cutters
  • Hammers
  • Explosives
  • Master keys
  • Crowbars
  • Prying devices
  • Ceramic spark plugs

What is deemed a criminal tool depends on state law and can differ.

What Does the Prosecutor Need to Establish to Find Me Guilty of Possession of Criminal Tools?

Some states make possessing criminal tools a crime in specific cases. Nevertheless, a prosecutor must prove three things to establish guilt:

  • The defendant had direct physical control of the criminal tool
  • The defendant had the intent to use the criminal tool during criminal activity such as trespassing or burglary
  • The criminal tools don’t serve a lawful purpose in the specific situation

What Are the Three Legal Elements of the Crime of Possession of Criminal Tools?

Every crime consists of facets that the prosecutor must demonstrate to win a conviction. In the matter of possession of criminal tools, three legal elements exist:

  • The “criminal tool” was a “substance, device, instrument, or article”;
  • That was in your custody or control; and
  • When you possessed the “criminal tool,” you planned to use it for criminal pursuits.

Element #1: A Substance, Device, Instrument, or Article

Although the meaning of this element is quite expansive, it would arguably exclude abstract things such as computer malware. The tool must be a real thing that you can hold in your hand.

Element #2: Your Possession or Control

“Possession or control” typically means that the object was on your person or property, that you knew it was there, and that you knew what it was. You don’t have to understand that it is unlawful to own it. However, circumstances can make proving dominion over the tool problematic for prosecutors.

For instance, suppose Joe, Jack, and Jeff all share a house. Suppose someone uses a crowbar to bust into a neighbor’s home one night. After doing so, the robber puts the crowbar into the garage that all three housemates share.

This can make it challenging for the prosecution to establish who had control, dominion, or even familiarity with the crowbar. A fourth party that doesn’t even reside in the home may have placed it there.

Criminal Intent

A prosecutor cannot win a conviction for owning instruments of crime without demonstrating criminal intent. You must have clear criminal intent before objects in your custody are categorized as criminal tools. The prosecution, however, may assume intent from your very possession of certain objects.

The prosecutor could shift the burden of proof onto you if you owned or possessed certain types of items.

What Is Possession or Control of a “Dangerous Ordinance?”

Possession of a dangerous ordinance would be custody of something that most individuals wouldn’t carry unless they intended to use it to perpetrate a crime. California keeps a list of hazardous ordinances that includes dynamite, explosive-grade nitroglycerine, and military-issue firearms.

Are There Any Adaptations?

If you maintain objects that you expressly adapted for criminal use, this type of thing carries a rebuttable inference of criminal purpose. An example would be a taped-up flashlight.

What Items Are Commonly Used in Crimes?

If you possess or control an item commonly used to commit crimes, that could indicate criminal intent under certain circumstances.

For instance, imagine the police find a screwdriver swinging from your belt at night while wearing a facemask and black garments. In that case, they might be able to assume criminal intent.

What Are the Available Defenses?

Several conceivable defenses are available against a charge of possession of criminal tools:

  • Merger: The prosecution has already charged you with the underlying offense;
  • Reasonable doubt as to your criminal purpose; or
  • The object was never in your custody or possession.

Multiple other possible defenses are available, depending on the specific facts of your case.

Are There Any Penalties?

The prosecutor can charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony version of possession of criminal tools. It all hinges on your purpose—did you plan to perpetrate a felony or a non-felony?

This offense would be a fifth-degree felony if you planned to commit a felony. It would be a first-degree misdemeanor if you planned to perpetrate a non-felony.

  • For a felony, you could encounter up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine.
  • You could encounter up to six months in jail for a misdemeanor and a $2,000 fine.

Remember that the preceding punishments are maximums, not minimums.

What Is Intent to Commit a Burglary?

How does a prosecutor demonstrate that the defendant maintained a tool, primarily an everyday tool like a hammer, with the intention to commit burglary? Sometimes, the defendant will concede. The circumstances can determine the defendant’s illicit intention.

For instance, if a person is found outside a pharmacy trying to push open a door and in the person’s bag there is a hammer, a pick, and a screwdriver, a jury or magistrate could reasonably infer that the individual had these tools with the goal to commit burglary.

How Are Burglary Tools Defined?

In many states, burglary tools are broadly characterized as any tool, instrument, or other objects “adapted, designed, or commonly used” to force entry into a building or commit robbery. In other states, the statute has a list of restricted items. Under either statute, the key is that the tool must be possessed to commit burglary, theft, trespass, or force entry into a building or container. The requirement varies depending on state law.

For instance, a person who has a screwdriver with the plan to use it to break into a car could be convicted of possession of burglar tools. Nevertheless, a professional welder who has an acetylene torch has not perpetrated a crime so long as the welder does not plan to use it or permit anyone else to utilize it for a shady purpose.

Do I Need an Attorney to Fight a Possession of Criminal Tools Charge?

Yes. If you are charged with possessing criminal tools, talk to a criminal defense attorney today.

A conviction of this misdemeanor can have long-ranging consequences, such as one year in jail or probation. An attorney near you will explain your legal options and how to fight the criminal tools charge case.


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