One of the essential numbers that are associated with vehicle ownership is its VIN. This number is considered to be so critical that California Vehicle Code has numerous sections that cover offenses related to the unlawful changes made to it. These are not light offenses. They carry hefty penalties and lengthy prison sentences in case of a conviction. What you should do as soon as you get charged is to speak with a competent lawyer who will help you fight these charges and avoid punishment.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our lawyers have in-depth knowledge of the California criminal law, including VIN tampering-related laws. We are ready to fight for you to keep you out of jail. Remember that wrongful accusations happen all the time due to misunderstandings. You shouldn’t suffer in silence just because you can’t defend yourself against the crime of which you are being accused. Reach out to our attorneys as soon as possible for help. In this article, we look at crimes that are commonly associated with your vehicle’s VIN.

What Does a VIN Mean?

A VIN refers to the serial number, motor number, or any other distinguishing letter(s), number(s), information, mark(s) used for identifying an automobile or a vehicle part. It is also used for auto registration. All automobiles have a distinctive VIN. The number appears on the DMV auto registration paperwork, as well as the metal plate that’s usually attached to the dashboard on the motorist’s side of the vehicle.

Also, there is a duplicate of the Vehicle Identification Number in at most seven other locations in the motor vehicle. A few of these locations are easier to locate while others are hidden from an easier view. The police officers use these hidden duplicates to identify an automobile when or if the public Vehicle Identification Number has been removed or altered. Possible locations where these VIN copies can be placed include the engine, the vehicle’s body, or the frame.

Deliberately Altering a Vehicle Identification Number (VC 10750)

California VC 10750 makes it an offense to intentionally destroy, alter, or deface a Vehicle Identification Number or otherwise stamp or place the VIN or any other identification number on auto in a different way that’s not approved by the DMV. This crime is charged as a misdemeanor.

Altering a Vehicle Identification Number for the Purposes of Misidentification (VC 10802)

VC 10802 makes it illegal to knowingly counterfeit, alter, destroy, deface falsify, disguise, forge, remove, or obliterate a VIN, intending to prevent one from identifying the auto or to misrepresent the identity of a vehicle or auto parts for the purposes of transfer, import, sale or export.

You don’t need to have completed the actual transfer, sale, export, or import for you to be convicted. The moment you alter the VIN with intent to carry out these actions, you will be sentenced for violating VC 10802.

Differentiating Between VC 10750 and VC 10802

Both VC 10802 and VC 10750 apply when a person destroys or alters a VIN in a manner that’s not accidental. VC 10802 outlines a significant number of unlawful acts compared to VC 10750. However, the most significant difference between these codes is ‘purpose’.

VC 10802 requires evidence that you changed a Vehicle Identification Number, specifically intending to hide or misrepresent the vehicle’s identity or identity of an auto part so you or someone else could sell or otherwise transfer it. This section was implemented with consideration of chop shops. Operators of chop shops usually disassemble parts from the stolen motor vehicles and then fix them to a new auto. They typically do all this in a manner that it’s impossible to know it was done without checking the VINs.

Other sections of the Vehicle Code aimed particularly at illegalizing chop shops include operating chop shops (VC 10801) and possessing/buying vehicles or vehicle parts with tampered Vehicle Identification Numbers (10803). However, although VC 10802 was enacted to assist in combating unlawful chop shop operations, it also applies to any person that alters a Vehicle Identification Number so that an automobile or auto part could be wrongfully transferred or sold.

Penalties for Destroying or Altering a VIN

VC 10750 is only a misdemeanor. Its consequences include a maximum jail sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $1000.

On the contrary, VC 10802 is prosecuted as a wobbler. By this, it means the prosecution can charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your punishment will be a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine not exceeding $1000. If you are accused of a felony, possible penalties will include three or two years, or sixteen months in jail and a fine that does not exceed $25000.

Additionally, the judge, under any of these code sections, has the discretion to suspend your jail time and put you on summary/misdemeanor probation, or where it applies, felony/formal probation.

If you’re put on probation, you will serve no or little jail time, but the court will supervise you for the period you’ll be on probation.  During this period, you’ll be subjected to various restrictions, including:

  • Community labor or service
  • Having routine meetings with your probation officer (in case of felony probation)
  • Not having any association with members of any gang (if applicable)
  • Not breaching any other law

Should you fail to comply with any probationary conditions you have been subjected to, the court has the discretion to cancel your probation then reinstate your initial sentence, which means you will be sent to jail.

Buying/Possessing a Vehicle with Tampered With VINs (VC 10803)

VC 10803 is one of the many laws that aim at preventing the destruction or alteration of Vehicle Identification Numbers by chop shops. A chop shop dismantles the vehicles that have been stolen, and it sells their parts, or it merges them into other new automobiles.

As per this code section, it’s a criminal offense to:

  1. Possess, or buy two or more vehicles or vehicle parts from two or more autos,
  2. When you’re fully aware that their Vehicle Identification Numbers have been counterfeited, defaced, altered, destroyed, falsified, disguised, obliterated, forged, or removed,
  3. With the intent to misrepresent their identity or prevent anyone from identifying them, and
  4. Intending to dispose of, resell, transfer, or sell them.

VC 10803 will not apply in your case if you:

  • Lawfully processes a vehicle or auto part by compacting or crushing
  • Are an automobile scrap processor
  • Don’t remove the Vehicle Identification Number during processing

The Punishment for Buying or Possessing Vehicles With Tampered With VINs

Possessing/buying two or more vehicles or auto parts from two or more automobiles with altered Vehicle Identification Numbers intending to resale is charged as a wobbler crime. If charged with a misdemeanor, your consequences include up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1000.

If you have been charged with a felony, the consequences you will face depend on whether you purchased the vehicles with tampered VINs or you only possessed them. As per California VC 10803b, possessing two or more autos that have altered VINs intending to resale is punished by facing three or two years, or sixteen months in jail and a fine not exceeding $30000.

Purchasing two or more vehicles that have tampered with VINs (VC 10803a) is punished by facing six, four, or two years in jail and a fine not exceeding $60000.

Defenses to Charges of Tampering With a VIN

There are several defenses against the charges of violating VC 10750, VC 10802, and VC 10803. Here are a few of these defenses:

You Attempted to Conceal the identity of the Vehicle, But You Did Not Change Its VIN

It’s always a legal defense to VC 10750 and VC 10802 charges that you weren’t the one who altered the VIN of a car or auto parts.

Example: Jim and Jill robbed a store. Later, they swapped the license plates of their vehicle with another auto. Although they tried hiding the identity of the car (and they can be guilty of other offenses), they are not supposed to face charges of tampering with the VIN since they did not do anything to hide or change the VIN.

You Defaced or Destroyed the Vehicle Identification Number Accidentally

Your defense attorney can use this defense to challenge VC 10750 and VC 10802 charges.

For instance: Kim has decided that he wants to replace the dashboard of his auto because it’s cracked, but he does not know how it is removed from the motor vehicle. Therefore, he smashes it using a hammer and ends up accidentally damaging the VIN.

You Were Not Altering the Vehicle Identification Number You Can Sell the Vehicle

Example: David stole someone’s car so that he would not have to take a taxi to work. For him to ensure that no one discovers the vehicle, he alters a “7” in the Vehicle Identification Number and makes it look like a “9”. In this case, David has violated VC 10750. However, since he was not doing that so he or someone else could sell the car, he is not guilty of breaching VC 10802 law.

The Vehicle Identification Number Had Been Previously TamperedWith By Another Person

Your attorney can also use this defense to defend against VC 10750, VC 10802, and VC 10803 charges

Example: Angela’s interest is in buying cheap motor vehicles at auctions, then she repairs them and sells them. While working on an auto she bought, Angela discovers that the Vehicle Identification Number on the car’s engine block does not match the one on its dashboard. She sells the auto anyway. Because the VIN had already been changed when Angela got the car, she isn’t guilty of altering the VIN.

The Police Officers Only Knew About the Tampered With VIN After Conducting an Unlawful Search

The Fourth Amendment forbids illegal searches & seizures. Even if you breached VC 10803, VC 10802, or VC 10750, if the officers discovered the motor vehicles or vehicle parts during an unlawful search, they won’t be admissible in court.

Example: A police officer receives an anonymous hint that Anthony changes the VINs on motor vehicle parts at his garage. The police wait outside Anthony’s garage until they hear sounds of power equipment. The officer enters Anthony’s garage with no warrant, checks the motor vehicles, and notices the altered VINs.

Since it was an anonymous tip without any corroboration, the police may have broken the California search & seizure laws. Anthony’s defense attorney could file a motion to suppress proof under PC 1538.5. If the judge grants the motion, Anthony’s case will most likely be thrown out.

You Did Not Possess or Buy the Vehicles or Vehicle Parts

This defense is used to defend against VC 10803. If the prosecution can’t prove beyond doubt that you bought or possessed the vehicle parts or vehicle you are being accused of buying/possessing, you can’t be convicted.

For instance, police officers identify two vehicles that have altered Vehicle Identification Numbers on Alison’s vacation property. Alison hasn’t visited the property for months now. Unless the prosecution can show beyond a doubt that the vehicles were bought by or belong to Alison, then Alison shouldn’t be convicted of VC 10803.

You Weren’t Aware the VINs Were Tampered With

VC 10803 provides that you purchase the vehicle parts or the vehicle itself, knowing that the Vehicle Identification Numbers have been altered for you to be convicted.

Consider this scenario: Suppose you have a liking of classic cars. Your daughter’s birthday is approaching, and you need to get her one. You find out that a dealer in the nearby shop has a vintage car on sale and decide to buy it for your daughter. Unknown to you, the car you bought your daughter had been stolen, and the dealer hid this fact by stamping a new VIN on the vehicle. Since you didn’t know that the car had a VIN that was not authentic, you shouldn’t be found guilty under VC 10803.

You Did Not Intend to Dispose of or Otherwise Resell the Auto or Parts

It’s also a defense against VC 10803 that you didn’t intend to rid yourself of the automobiles or parts whose VINs have been altered.

Example: Maurice reconstructs vintage cars using only the original parts. A friend of his works at a chop shop. Every time similar cars to the ones Maurice is reconstructing come in the shop, the friend steals the vehicle parts that Maurice needs and changes their VIN. Although Maurice is knowingly purchasing numerous parts with altered VINs, he isn’t guilty since he does not intend to resell them.

Related Offenses 

Crimes that involve VIN tampering are usually closely related to other types of stolen property offenses. Further charges you might face alongside or instead of VIN tampering crimes include:

Operating a Chop Shop (VC 10801)

VC 10801 makes it illegal to run or own chop shops knowingly. A chop shop refers to any place where a person dismantles, stores, or alters a vehicle or auto part(s) that have been stolen with the intent to hide their identity, dispose of, or sell them.

This crime is charged as a wobbler. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will spend up to a year in jail and pay a maximum fine of $1000. And if you are convicted of a felony, you will be subjected to a maximum county jail sentence of four years and up to $50000 in fines.

Vehicle Registration Fraud (VC 4463)

VC 4463 makes it an offense to alter, counterfeit, forge or falsify an ownership certificate, a motor vehicle license plate, a DMV registration card, or auto license sticker with a fraudulent intention. Also, this code section makes it illegal to display or possess stickers or a DMV registration card that is incomplete, blank, suspended, canceled, altered, revoked, false, forged, or counterfeit. And finally, under this law, it is a criminal offense to try passing off as authentic, stickers, a license or registration card, which you are well aware they are forged, counterfeited, false, or altered.

VC 4463 is prosecuted as a wobbler crime. Misdemeanor penalties include up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1000.  The consequences of a felony, on the other hand, include three or two years, or sixteen months in jail, and a maximum of $10000 in fines.

Receiving Stolen Property (PC 496)

PC 496 makes it an offense to acquire any property if you are aware that it’s been stolen. Receiving property that’s stolen is a wobbler. A misdemeanor offense is punished by facing up to a year in jail and up to $1000 in fines. A felony is punished by three years or two years, or sixteen months in jail, and a maximum of $10000 in fines.

Find a VIN-Related Crimes Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you’re being accused of tampering with a Vehicle Identification Number, selling, or possessing vehicles or vehicle parts with altered VINs, you don’t have to fight these charges on your own. You need legal help from an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our lawyers boast considerable years of experience. They have successfully defended clients like you that had been charged with VIN-related offenses.  Let us assist you too. We are dedicated to giving you the attention you need and helping you overcome a difficult situation. Contact us now at 424-333-0943 for a free consultation.