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Penal Code 18720 PC – Possession of Destructive Device Materials

July 13, 2021 California Penal Code

Penal Code 18720 PC is the California law that makes it illegal to possess materials for the purpose of making a destructive device.  A conviction carries a sentence of up to 4 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.00. A destructive device is a bomb or other explosives.

Now that as concern about terrorist acts on American soil is increasing, we can anticipate to see more arrests for this crime in the near future.

Two significant points about this section are:

  • You can be responsible for this offense even if you did not intend to explode or otherwise use a destructive device; and
  • Possessing the supplies to make a destructive device actually carries tougher penalties than the related crime of Penal Code 18710 PC possession of a destructive device.

In this article, the California criminal defense attorneys at Spodek Law Group will help you get a better understanding of the following:

  1. Legal explanation of possessing destructive device materials
  2. Under California law possession of materials to make explosives or a destructive device is a crime
  3. Under California possession of materials for creating explosives or a destructive device is a crime
  4. Common legal defenses

1.Legal explanation of possessing destructive device materials under California Penal Code 18720 is as follows:

  • You possessed an element or material, or a combination of both; and
  • When you possessed those items, you planned to make an explosive or a destructive device.
  • These are the only two essentials of the crime of possession of destructive device materials. There is no condition that you plan to injure any person or property with a destructive device—or even explode the device at all.

Essentially,possession of a bomb/destructive device is like certain other California “possession” crimes, such as Health & Safety Code 11350 HS possession of a controlled substanceand Penal Code 29800 PC criminal in possession of a firearm.

Example: Toby is a retired military service member with a personal interest in weapons technology.

Toby decides that he would like to try building a homemade explosive device just to see if he can. He has no intention of using it to harm anyone—though he does think it might be interesting to detonate it in the woods behind his house at some point to see if it works.

Toby buys the materials necessary to make the device from army surplus stores, ammunition stores and agricultural suppliers. The owner of one of these stores gets suspicious and reports Toby to the police, who arrest Toby before he has had a chance to assemble the device.

Toby is guilty of PC 18720 possession of materials to make a bomb.

You are considered to possess a substance or material if you have control over it or the right to control it. Directly or indirectly through another person. You do not need to physically, or personally hold or touch it.

Example: Let’s return to Toby from our example above.

Let’s say he doesn’t have the storage space for some of the chemicals he is buying for his planned homemade explosive device, so he asks his sister Stephanie, who has a huge storage shed, if she will store them for him. Stephanie agrees.

So a certain chemical that Toby needs for his device is delivered to Stephanie’s house, and she has the delivery people put it in her shed and lets Toby know it has arrived. Toby is arrested before he even sees that chemical.

Toby is still guilty of possessing materials for a destructive device.

It is important to note that you are not guilty of possession of destructive device/explosive materials under Penal Code 18720 if you had a valid licence to make such a device or explosive.

2.Under California law possession of materials to make explosives or a destructive device is a crime

A “destructive device” includes any of the following weapons:

  • Any projectile comprising explosive or incendiary material, including the type of ammo known as “ tracer ammunition” (not designed for use in shotguns);
  • Any bomb, grenade, explosive missile, or similar device, or any means for launching such a weapon;
  • Any weapon larger than 0.60 caliber that fires fixed ammunition, or any ammunition for such a weapon (but not shotguns, shotgun ammunition, or antique rifles or cannons); 
  • Any rocket, rocket-propelled projectile, or comparable device of a diameter greater than 0.60 inches and/or holding any explosive or incendiary material, and/or any launching device for such a device, except for devices used mainly for emergency or distress signaling purposes;
  • Any fragile container holding a flammable liquid with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less and with a wick or similar device capable of being ignited, except for devices made primarily as a source of light; and
  • Any closed device comprising dry ice or other chemically reactive material that is assembled for the purpose of causing an explosion.

An “explosive” is either:

  • Any substance or mixture of substances whose chief or common purpose is to detonate or rapidly combust, AND which is capable of a fairly sudden or rapid release of gas and heat; or
  • Any element whose main purpose is to be combined with other substances to create a new substance that can release gas and heat rapidly or relatively fast.
  • Examples of explosives consist of (but not limited to):
  • Dynamite;
  • Nitroglycerine;
  • Fulminate of mercury; and
  • Picric acid.

Under California possession of materials for creating explosives or a destructive device is a crime

The possible penalties are:

  • Felony (formal) probation;
  • Two, three or four years served in county jail under California’s realignment program; and/or
  • A fine of up to $10,000. 

3. Common legal defences

A common legal defense is that you did not plan to use the materials to make an explosive or destructive device.

Possessing the materials or substances is not sufficient—the prosecutor needs to be able to show that you essentially intended to assemble them into something dangerous.

Another likely legal defense is that the materials on which your charges are founded were discovered by police during an illegal search or seizure. If the police did not comply with proper procedure, then evidence acquired from the illegal search may not be used against you.

Any questions about the crime of Penal Code 18720 PC possessing destructive device materials, or to discuss your case privately with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not waver to contact us at Spodek Law Group.

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