Vehicle Code 10803 VC
Buying or possessing vehicles with tampered VINs

California Vehicle Code 10803 VC makes it a crime to:

  1. buy or possess more than one vehicle (or parts from more than one vehicle),
  2. when such vehicles or parts contain tampered vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and
  3. the vehicles or parts are purchased for the purpose of resale or other transfer.1

Vehicle Code 10803 does not apply to legal motor vehicle scrap processors who do not remove the VINs before processing.2

Penalties under California Vehicle Code 10803 VC

Vehicle Code 10803 is a California “wobbler” offense. This means that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If charged as a California misdemeanor, Vehicle Code 10803 is punishable by:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.3

If charged as a California felony, punishment for Vehicle Code 10803 depends on whether you just possessed the vehicles or parts or you actually purchased them.

Felony possession of vehicles or parts under Vehicle Code 10803 is punishable by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $30,000.4

Felony purchase of multiple vehicles or parts carries a penalty of:

  • two, four, or six years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $60,000.5
Defenses to charges of buying or possessing vehicles with tampered VINs

Legal defenses to Vehicle Code 10803 charges may include (but are not limited to):

  • You didn't buy or possess more than one vehicle with a tampered VIN,
  • You didn't know the VIN had been tampered with,
  • You didn't intend to resell or otherwise disposes of the vehicle or part, or
  • The police found the tampered VINs through an illegal search
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Our firm's California criminal defense lawyers include former prosecutors and cops. We now use our knowledge and experience to defend people accused of criminal defenses, including vehicle-related crimes.

To help you understand the law against buying vehicles with tampered VINs for the purpose of resale, our California criminal defense attorneys discuss the following, below:

  1. What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

  2. What does California Vehicle Code 10803 VC prohibit?

  3. The penalty for possessing or buying vehicles with altered VINs

  4. Defenses to Vehicle Code 10803 VC

  5. Related offenses

    1. Vehicle Code 10801 VC – operating a “chop shop”

    2. Vehicle Code 10750 and 10802 – tampering with a VIN

    3. Penal Code 496 PC -- receiving stolen property

    4. Vehicle Code 4463 VC – vehicle registration fraud

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1. What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

A vehicle identification number (VIN) is a:

  • motor number,
  • serial number, or
  • other distinguishing numbers and/or letters,

which uniquely identifies a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part.6

The VIN can be found on:

  • California DMV documents (such as registration), and
  • a metal plate in the vehicle, usually located on the driver-side dashboard.7

In addition, the VIN appears in six or seven other places throughout the vehicle. Some of these are easy to locate. Others are hidden from easy view.

The police use these extra copies of the VIN to identify a vehicle when the “public” VIN has been altered or removed.8

2. What does California Vehicle Code 10803 VC prohibit?

California Vehicle Code 10803 VC is one of a series of laws aimed at stopping the alteration or destruction of VINs by “chop shops.” Chop shops dismantle stolen vehicles and sell the parts, or combine them into new vehicles.

Under Vehicle Code 10803 VC, it is a crime to:

  1. buy or possess
  2. more than one motor vehicle or parts from more than one motor vehicle
  3. when you know that their VINs have been
    • altered,
    • counterfeited,
    • defaced,
    • destroyed,
    • disguised,
    • falsified,
    • forged,
    • obliterated, or
    • removed

for the purpose of misrepresenting the identity or preventing the identification of the motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts

AND

4. you intend to resell, dispose of, sell, or transfer such vehicles or vehicle parts.9

Vehicle Code 10803 does not apply to you if:

  1. you are a motor vehicle scrap processor,
  2. you legally processes a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part by crushing or compacting, AND
  3. you do not remove the VIN during processing.10

3. The penalty for possessing or buying vehicles with altered VINs

Buying and/or possessing more than one vehicle (or parts from more than one vehicle) with tampered VINs for the purpose of resale is a “wobbler” offense. This means it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalty for violating Vehicle Code 10803 VC is:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.11

If prosecuted as a felony, the penalty depends on whether you bought the tampered vehicles or just possessed them.

Under California Vehicle Code 10803(b), possessing more than one vehicle with a tampered VIN for purposes of resale is punishable by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $30,000.12

Purchasing multiple vehicles with tampered VINs -- Vehicle Code 10803(a) -- can be punished by:

  • two, four, or six years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $60,000.13
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4. Defenses to Vehicle Code 10803 VC

  • You didn't buy or possess the vehicles

Example: The police find two cars with tampered VINs on a vacation property owned by Roberto. Roberto hasn't been to the property in several months. Unless the prosecutor can prove that the cars belong to or were purchased by Roberto, Roberto should be found not guilty of violating Vehicle Code 10803.

  • You didn't know the VINs had been tampered with

Example: Delores is in the business of restoring and selling old cars. Delores buys a pair of 1966 Ford Mustangs at auction. Although the paperwork seems to be in order, the cars were actually stolen and contain altered VINs. But since Delores didn't know the VINs were tampered with, she is not guilty under Vehicle Code 10803.

  • You didn't intend to resell or otherwise dispose of the vehicle or part

Example: Frank is reconstructing a vintage car, using only original parts. One of his buddies works at a chop shop. Whenever a similar car comes into the chop shop, the buddy steals the parts Frank needs and alters the ID numbers. Even though Frank is knowingly buying multiple parts with tampered VINs, he is not guilty under Vehicle Code 10803 because he doesn't intend to resell them.

  • The police found the tampered VINs through an illegal search

The Fourth Amendment prohibits illegal searches and seizures. Even if you violated Vehicle Code 10803, if the vehicles or parts were found during an illegal search, they aren't admissible. Your California criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence under California Penal Code 1538.5 PC.

Example: Omar is driving his van in a neighborhood known to have numerous chop shops. One day an LAPD officer pulls Omar over for a broken traffic light. Omar is polite to the officer, and produces his registration and license when asked.

When Omar reaches for his registration, the officer notices car parts on the passenger seat. He makes Omar open the back of the van. The officer finds multiple vehicle parts that later turn out to be stolen. However, since the officer had no probable cause to search the vehicle, evidence of the parts should be excluded.

5. Related offenses

5.1 Vehicle Code 10801 VC – operating a “chop shop”

California Vehicle Code 10801 – operating a “chop shop”, makes it illegal to participate in altering, dismantling or storing a stolen motor vehicle or vehicle parts with the intent of selling them.14

Vehicle Code 10801 VC can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

As a misdemeanor, the penalty is:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.15

As a felony, it is punishable by:

  • up to four years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $50,000.16

5.2 Vehicle Code 10750 and 10802 – tampering with a VIN

California Vehicle Code 10802 -- altering a VIN -- punishes knowingly tampering with a vehicle identification number (VIN) so that it can be sold and not properly identified.17

Vehicle Code 10802 is a California “wobbler” offense.

As a misdemeanor, it carries a possible sentence of:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.18

As a felony, the possible penalty is:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • up to a $25,000 fine.19

5.3 Penal Code 496 PC -- receiving stolen property

California Penal Code 496 PC, receiving stolen property makes it a crime to receive property if you know it has been stolen.20

Receiving stolen property is a California “wobbler.”

As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by:

  • up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).21

As a felony, Penal Code 496 carries a sentence of:

  • 16 months, two years or three years in county jail, and/or
  • up to a $10,000 fine.22

5.4 Vehicle Code 4463 – fraudulent vehicle registration

California Vehicle Code 4463 VC, fraudulent vehicle registration, covers a wide variety of wrongful acts related to vehicle registration documents.

Vehicle Code 4463(a)(1) makes it a crime to alter, forge, counterfeit, or falsify with fraudulent intent:

  • a certificate of ownership,
  • a vehicle license plate,
  • vehicle license stickers, or
  • a California DMV registration card.23

It also prohibits possessing or displaying a registration card or stickers which are:

  • blank,
  • incomplete,
  • cancelled,
  • suspended,
  • revoked,
  • altered,
  • forged,
  • counterfeit, or
  • false.24

Under Vehicle Code 4463(a)(2), it is also a crime to publish, pass, or attempt to pass as true and genuine, any of the foregoing if you know that they are false, altered, forged, or counterfeited.25

Vehicle Code 4463 VC is a wobbler offense. If charged as a misdemeanor, it is punishable by:

  • up to one year in a county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $1,000.26

As a felony, Vehicle Code 4463 can be punished by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000.27
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For more information about California's laws on VIN tampering and chop shops, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our criminal defense attorneys, please don't hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Our California criminal law offices are located in and around Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys represent clients accused of violating Nevada's criminal laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.

Legal references:

1 California Vehicle Code 10803 VC: (a) Any person who buys with the intent to resell, disposes of, sells, or transfers, more than one motor vehicle or parts from more than one motor vehicle, with the knowledge that the vehicle identification numbers of the motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts have been altered, counterfeited, defaced, destroyed, disguised, falsified, forged, obliterated, or removed for the purpose of misrepresenting the identity or preventing the identification of the motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, four, or six years, or by a fine of not more than sixty thousand dollars ($60,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

(b) Any person who possesses, for the purpose of sale, transfer, import, or export, more than one motor vehicle or parts from more than one motor vehicle, with the knowledge that the vehicle identification numbers of the motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts have been altered, counterfeited, defaced, destroyed, disguised, falsified, forged, obliterated, or removed for the purpose of misrepresenting the identity or preventing the identification of the motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months, or two or three years, or by a fine of not more than thirty thousand dollars ($30,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by both the fine and imprisonment.

2 Vehicle Code 10804 (a) VC: Section 10803 does not apply to a motor vehicle scrap processor who, in the normal legal course of business and in good faith, processes a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part by crushing, compacting, or other similar methods, if any vehicle identification number is not removed from the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part prior to or during the processing.

3 Same.

4 California Vehicle Code 10803(b)

5 California Vehicle Code 10803(a)

6 California Vehicle Code 671.  (a) A "vehicle identification number" is the motor number, serial number, or other distinguishing number, letter, mark, character, or datum, or any combination thereof, required or employed by the manufacturer or the department for the purpose of uniquely identifying a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part or for the purpose of registration.

(b) Whenever a vehicle is constructed of component parts identified with one or more different vehicle identification numbers, the vehicle identification number stamped or affixed by the manufacturer or authorized governmental entity on the frame or unitized frame and body, as applicable, and as defined in Section 670.5, shall determine the identity of the vehicle for registration purposes.

7 See People v. Joiner (2000) 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 270, 84 Cal.App.4th 946, rehearing denied, review denied.

8 Same.

9 California Vehicle Code 10803(b)

10 Vehicle Code 10804 (a) VC: Section 10803 does not apply to a motor vehicle scrap processor who, in the normal legal course of business and in good faith, processes a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part by crushing, compacting, or other similar methods, if any vehicle identification number is not removed from the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part prior to or during the processing.

11 Same.

12 California Vehicle Code 10803 VC

13 California Vehicle Code 10803(a) VC

14 California Judicial Council Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) 1752:

A chop shop is a building, lot, or other place where:

  1. A person alters, destroys, takes apart, reassembles, or stores a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part;
  2. That person knows that the vehicle or part has been obtained by theft, fraud, or conspiracy to defraud;
    AND
  3. That person knows that the vehicle or part was obtained in order to either:
    • Sell or dispose of the vehicle or part;
      OR
    • Alter, counterfeit, deface, destroy, disguise, falsify, forge, obliterate, or remove the identity, including an identification number, of the vehicle or part, in order to misrepresent its identity or prevent its identification.

15 Same.

16 California Vehicle Code 10801 VC: Any person who knowingly and intentionally owns or operates a chop shop is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, three, or four years, or by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

17 Chop Shop Activities 10802.  Any person who knowingly alters, counterfeits, defaces, destroys, disguises, falsifies, forges, obliterates, or removes vehicle identification numbers, with the intent to misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, for the purpose of sale, transfer, import, or export, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months, or two or three years, or by a fine of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

18 California Vehicle Code 10802

19 Same

20 California Penal Code 496(a) PC: Every person who buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170. However, if the district attorney or the grand jury determines that this action would be in the interests of justice, the district attorney or the grand jury, as the case may be, may, if the value of the property does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), specify in the accusatory pleading that the offense shall be a misdemeanor, punishable only by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year.

A principal in the actual theft of the property may be convicted pursuant to this section. However, no person may be convicted both pursuant to this section and of the theft of the same property.

21 Same.

22 Same.

23 California Vehicle Code 4463(a)(1) VC.

24 Same.

25 California Vehicle Code 4463(a)(2) VC.

26 California Vehicle Code 4463(a).

27 Same.

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