California Vehicle Registration Fraud
Vehicle Code 4463 VC

 California law imposes criminal penalties for fraud or forgery involving:

  • Vehicle registration certificates;
  • Vehicle registration stickers;
  • Vehicle license plates; and
  • Vehicle smog test certificates.1

Specifically, Vehicle Code 4463 VC prohibits all of the following:

  1. Altering, forging, counterfeiting or falsifying vehicle registration materials;
  2. Displaying or possessing blank, canceled, revoked, forged or counterfeit vehicle registration materials with fraudulent intent; and
  3. Passing or attempting to pass as true and genuine any false, altered or counterfeit vehicle registration materials.2

Examples

Here are some examples of behavior that could violate California's car registration fraud law:

  • Creating forged registration certificates and selling them on the black market;
  • Stealing a registration sticker from another car and displaying it on your own to avoid having to pay the hefty fees for vehicle registration renewal; and
  • Creating fake “smog test” certificates for submission to the DMV.
Cal_license_plate
You can be charged with vehicle registration fraud for displaying counterfeit car registration stickers.

Penalties

Vehicle registration fraud under California Vehicle Code 4463 is what is known as a California “wobbler.” This means it may be charged as eithermisdemeanor or a felony.3

Misdemeanor car registration fraud carries a potential county jail sentence of up to one (1) year, and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).4

Felony vehicle registration fraud carries a sentence of sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in jail, and/or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).5

Legal defenses

Fortunately, there are a variety of common legal defenses that your California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf. These include:

  • You lacked fraudulent intent; and
  • There is insufficient evidence to convict you.

In order to help you better understand the California crime of VC 4463 vehicle registration fraud, our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following:

1. Legal Definition of Vehicle Registration Fraud

2. Penalties for Vehicle Code 4463 VC Registration Fraud in California

3. Legal Defenses to Vehicle Registration Fraud Charges

4. Related Offenses

4.1. Vehicle Code 20 giving false information to the DMV
4.2. Penal Code 472 forgery of a public seal
4.3. Vehicle Code 31 false information to a peace officer

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. Legal Definition of Vehicle Registration Fraud

Falsifying, forging or counterfeiting vehicle registration certificates, license plates or registration stickers violates California's fraud laws. “Fraud” is generally defined as a deliberate deception in order to secure an unfair or unlawful gain.6

Falseimpers_nofraudsign
Vehicle registration fraud is one of a large number of California fraud crimes.

California law, Vehicle Code 4463 VC, sets out the following legal definition of vehicle registration fraud:

  1. Altering, forging, counterfeiting or falsifying a vehicle registration card, license plate, registration sticker or smog certificate, with intent to defraud;
  2. Displaying, causing or permitting to be displayed, or possessing a blank, incomplete, cancelled, suspended, revoked, altered, forged, counterfeit, or false vehicle registration card, license plate, registration sticker or smog certificate, with fraudulent intent; or
  3. Publishing, passing or attempting to pass as true and genuine a false, altered, forged or counterfeit vehicle registration card, license plate, registration sticker or smog certificate, with intent to defraud.7

Let's take a better look at the various forms of car registration fraud:

Altering, forging, counterfeiting or falsifying vehicle registration materials

One way to violate VC 4463 is to actually alter or forge vehicle registration materials. This is a variation on the general crime of California forgery.

Example: Alexei receives a used car as a “gift” from a friend who owes him money and isn't able to pay him back in cash. Alexei understands that the car is probably stolen.

Luckily, Alexei is skilled at creating counterfeit documents and other materials. He creates a fake California registration certificate, fake California license plate and fake registration sticker, so that he can drive the car around without getting stopped.

Alexei is guilty of vehicle registration fraud for counterfeiting these materials—and he may also be guilty of receiving stolen property for keeping the car.

In addition to forging or counterfeiting California registration materials, you can violate this section of the vehicle registration fraud statute by:

  • Altering, forging, counterfeiting or falsifying comparable registration materials from jurisdictions other than California; or
  • Altering, forging, counterfeiting or falsifying registration materials with the intent to represent them as issued by the California DMV.8
Black_sedan
Displaying fraudulent vehicle registration materials is a violation of Vehicle Code 4463 VC.

Example: In addition to registration fees, California charges a vehicle license fee that varies depending on the value of the vehicle.

Kristi moves to California from Nevada. She drives a year-old Mercedes.

Before registering her car in California, she alters her Nevada registration documents to make it appear as if the car is actually a decade old. She does this to avoid paying the higher license fees on a more expensive car.

Kristi is guilty of vehicle registration fraud for altering a registration document from another jurisdiction.

Displaying fraudulent registration materials

You can also be convicted of vehicle registration fraud even if you don't create the forged or fraudulent materials yourself—as long as you display or possess them with fraudulent intent.9

Example: Betty is short of cash when it is time to renew her car registration. She lets the registration expire.

Her friend Greg, who is a skilled graphic designer, offers to make her a sticker that looks exactly like the ones issued by the DMV for placement on license plates. Betty says yes.

Greg makes the sticker, and Betty places it on her car. This allows her to drive and park on city streets without getting pulled over or ticketed for her expired registration.

Greg is guilty of vehicle registration fraud for creating the counterfeit sticker—but Betty is also guilty for displaying it on her car with fraudulent intent.

Example: Police pull Ronald over in his car one night because they suspect him of participating in a recent robbery.

The officers find a large number of blank fake vehicle registration certificates in his car, along with blank sheets of selective service cards and a paper describing how to forge a driver's license.

Ronald was caught in possession of fake registration materials. The large number of fake certificates he possessed, coupled with the other suspicious materials, are reliable circumstantial evidence that he intended to use them for fraudulent purposes.

Thus, he is guilty of vehicle registration fraud.10

Publishing or passing fraudulent materials as genuine

Finally, you are also guilty of vehicle registration fraud if you publish or pass off as genuine, or attempt to pass off as genuine, any fraudulent vehicle registration material—provided you know that it is false, altered, forged or counterfeit.11 

Cal_smog_check
Passing fraudulent smog check certificates as genuine is a form of California vehicle registration fraud.

Example: Harry runs a California smog test shop.

Sometimes, when a car comes into the shop and passes the smog test, Harry's employee Willard will conduct a second test on that car. So Harry's shop ends up with two smog test certificates indicating that a car has passed. Harry knows that Willard is doing this.

Then, when a car comes in that fails the test, Harry will pretend that it passed—and will transmit one of the extra passing certificates to the DMV.

Harry is guilty of Vehicle Code 4463 motor vehicle registration fraud—because he knowingly tried to pass off the fraudulent certificates as genuine by submitting them to the DMV for cars that actually did not pass the test.12

BUT

Example: Victor has just moved to California from Chile. He gets help in settling in from his sister Elena, who has lived here for many years.

Elena provides Victor with a car to drive while he looks for work. She also provides him with a registration certificate that has the car registered in his name. It turns out that this certificate is fake—but Victor doesn't know this.

At some point Victor is pulled over. He gives the officer the false registration. The officer immediately recognizes it as a fake and arrests Victor for vehicle registration fraud.

But Victor should be able to beat these charges. He did present a counterfeit registration certificate as genuine—but he did so without knowing that it was counterfeit.

2. Penalties for Vehicle Code 4463 VC Registration Fraud in California

Vehicle Code 4463 VC car registration fraud is a wobbler. This is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony in California.13

Judge_20gavel
Vehicle registration fraud can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

It is the prosecutor's choice whether to charge you with vehicle registration fraud as a misdemeanor or as a felony. S/he will typically make that choice based on:

  • The alleged facts of the case; and
  • Your criminal background, if any.

Misdemeanor vehicle registration fraud carries the following penalties:

Felony vehicle registration fraud carries the following penalties:

Loss of your driver's license

Also, if the California DMV believes that, as part of the behavior that led to charges for vehicle registration fraud, you committed fraud in any application you made to them, then they may:

  • Refuse to issue you a California driver's license;
  • Refuse to renew your California driver's license; or
  • Suspend or revoke your California driver's license.16
License_suspended
A vehicle registration fraud conviction can lead to the suspension of your driver's license.

If this occurs, and you need to drive anyway, then you could be charged with the California crime of driving on a suspended license.

3. Legal Defenses to Vehicle Registration Fraud Charges

Fortunately, there are a variety of defenses that an experienced California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf. These include (but are not limited to):

You lacked intend to defraud

If the prosecutor can't prove that you intentionally committed a fraud, you should not be convicted of fraudulent vehicle registration.

You may have bought a car on Craigslist or been given one by a family member or friend—and only found out later that it came with fraudulent registration materials. Police who catch you with those materials may take a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to your case.

But as Glendale criminal defense lawyer John Murray17 explains:

“The very definition of fraud—including DMV and registration fraud—hinges on the intent of the defendant. Without intent, there is no fraud crime.”

There is insufficient evidence to convict you

Many allegations of falsified, counterfeit or fraudulent vehicle registration cases revolve around circumstantial evidence. “Circumstantial evidence” is any evidence that doesn't directly point to guilt but that instead proves another fact that, in turn, makes the defendant's guilty more likely.18

Cal_registration
The evidence in fraudulent vehicle registration cases is not always sufficient for a guilty verdict.

Circumstantial evidence is perfectly acceptable evidence in California criminal cases.19 But it is less powerful than so-called “direct evidence”—and it can be much more difficult for a prosecutor to convince a jury that it shows guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Plea bargaining

The fact is that most criminal cases in this state resolve prior to a California criminal jury trial —often through plea bargaining. Plea bargaining allows you the opportunity to agree to a reduced charge and/or a reduced sentence in exchange for a dismissal of the more serious charge of fraudulent car registration.

If the prosecutor isn't convinced that s/he will be able to secure a guilty verdict, s/he may be willing to accept a plea to a less serious charge, such as a Vehicle Code infraction.

4. Related Offenses

Other California crimes that are closely related to California Vehicle Code 4463 car registration fraud include:

4.1. Vehicle Code 20 giving false information to the DMV

If you knowingly make a false statement—or knowingly conceal any material fact—in a registration document that you file with the California DMV, then you can be charged with Vehicle Code 20 VC false statements to the DMV.20

It is not uncommon for defendants to be charged with both registration fraud and giving false information to the DMV.

VC 20 false statements to the DMV is a misdemeanor, with a potential jail sentence of up to six (6) months and a potential fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).21 

Ca_dmv
False statements to the DMV is often charged along with vehicle registration fraud.
4.2. Penal Code 472 forgery of a public seal

Fraudulent car registration materials can also be associated with the crime of forgery of a public seal under Penal Code 472 PC.

This law makes it a crime to possess and “willfully conceal” a counterfeit seal of a government entity, with the intent to use it to commit a fraud.22

If you conceal forged DMV documents, then you may be charged both with forgery of a public seal and with Vehicle Code 4463.

Like vehicle registration fraud, forgery of a public seal is a “wobbler” in California law.23

4.3. Vehicle Code 31 false information to a peace officer

Vehicle Code 31 VC makes it a crime to give any information to a peace officer—either in writing or orally—when you know that information is false.24

So if you are caught with a registration certificate, registration sticker, etc., that you know is counterfeit or altered, and you tell the law enforcement officer that the materials are genuine—then you may be charged with both vehicle registration fraud and giving false information to a peace officer.

Giving false information to a peace/police officer is a misdemeanor in California.25

Call us for help…
Help-support-call-us

For questions about the crime of Vehicle Code 4463 VC vehicle registration fraud, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California Criminal Fraud Laws; The Crime of Forgery in California; Legal Definition of a California “Wobbler”; Legal Definition of a Misdemeanor in California; Legal Definition of a Felony in California; Common Legal Defenses to California Crimes; Receiving Stolen Property Penal Code 496 PC; Penal Code 211 PC Robbery; Circumstantial Evidence in California Criminal Law; Misdemeanor (Summary) Probation in California; Felony (Formal) Probation in California; AB 109 California's Realignment Program; The California Crime of Driving on a Suspended License; California Criminal Jury Trials: How it Works; The Legal Definition of an Infraction in California Criminal Law; Vehicle Code 20 VC False Statements to the DMV; Forgery of a Public Seal Under Penal Code 472 PC; and Vehicle Code 31 VC Giving False Information to a Peace Officer.

Legal References:


1 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – Forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of registration, license plate, certificate, license, etc., or disabled person placard; penalties [vehicle registration fraud]. (“(a) A person who, with intent to prejudice, damage, or defraud, commits any of the following acts is guilty of a felony and upon conviction thereof 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 imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year: (1) Alters, forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a certificate of ownership, registration card, certificate, license, license plate, device issued pursuant to Section 4853, special plate, or permit provided for by this code or a comparable certificate of ownership, registration card, certificate, license, license plate, device comparable to that issued pursuant to Section 4853, special plate, or permit provided for by a foreign jurisdiction, or alters, forges, counterfeits, or falsifies the document, device, or plate with intent to represent it as issued by the department, or alters, forges, counterfeits, or falsifies with fraudulent intent an endorsement of transfer on a certificate of ownership or other document evidencing ownership, or with fraudulent intent displays or causes or permits to be displayed or have in his or her possession a blank, incomplete, canceled, suspended, revoked, altered, forged, counterfeit, or false certificate of ownership, registration card, certificate, license, license plate, device issued pursuant to Section 4853, special plate, or permit. (2) Utters, publishes, passes, or attempts to pass, as true and genuine, a false, altered, forged, or counterfeited matter listed in paragraph (1) knowing it to be false, altered, forged, or counterfeited.”)

See also People v. Avanessian (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 635, 641. (“This means that a smog certificate is a certificate within the meaning of Vehicle Code section 4463 so that defendants' fraudulent production of smog certificates violated that section.”)

2 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – Forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of registration, license plate, certificate, license, etc., or disabled person placard; penalties [vehicle registration fraud], endnote 1, above.

3 Same.

4 Same.

See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed [such as vehicle registration fraud], the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)

5 Same.

6 Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014), FRAUD. (“1. A knowing misrepresentation or knowing concealment of a material fact made to induce another to act to his or her detriment.”)

7 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – Forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of registration, license plate, certificate, license, etc., or disabled person placard; penalties [vehicle registration fraud], endnote 1, above.

8 Same.

9 Same.

10 Based on People v. Wilkins (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 763, 770-71. (“It is argued that possession of the contraband (People's One) was not a violation of Vehicle Code section 4463 in that a blank registration slip on its face cannot defraud and is not a registration card within the meaning of the section. We do not agree. Section 4463 provides in part that it is a crime for one to have in his possession any counterfeit or false certificate of ownership, registration card or certificate with intent to defraud. Defendant is not charged with the forging of a valid form but rather with possession of a counterfeited registration card. The evidence establishes that the documents in question, while incomplete, were in fact fraudulent copies of the regular registration form prescribed and provided by the department.”)

11 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – Forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of registration, license plate, certificate, license, etc., or disabled person placard; penalties [vehicle registration fraud], endnote 1, above.

12 Based on the facts of People v. Avanessian, endnote 1, above.

13 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – Forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of registration, license plate, certificate, license, etc., or disabled person placard; penalties [vehicle registration fraud], endnote 1, above.

14 Same.

See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment, endnote 4, above.

15 Same.

16 Vehicle Code 12809 VC – Grounds permitting refusal; operative date. (“The department may refuse to issue or renew a driver's license to any person: . . . (d) If the department determines that the person has knowingly used a false or fictitious name in any application for a license or has impersonated another in making application or in taking any test, or has knowingly made a false statement or knowingly concealed a material fact, or otherwise committed any fraud in any application [including in connection with vehicle registration fraud].”)

See also Vehicle Code 13359 VC – Grounds for suspension or revocation. (“The department may suspend or revoke the privilege of any person to operate a motor vehicle upon any of the grounds which authorize the refusal to issue a license.”)

17 Glendale criminal defense attorney John Murray is an expert specialist in crimes involving the California Vehicle Code, including VC 4463. He works closely with his clients, and carefully chosen private investigators and experts, to build the strongest defense in cases ranging from DUI to driving on a suspended license to vehicle registration fraud. He has extensive experience both in the court systems of Los Angeles County and Ventura County and in California DMV hearings .

18 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions ("CALCRIM") 223 – Direct and Circumstantial Evidence [relevant to proof in vehicle registration fraud cases]. ("Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence or by a combination of both. Direct evidence can prove a fact by itself. For example, if a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining. Circumstantial evidence also may be called indirect evidence. Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove the fact to be decided, but is evidence of another fact or group of facts from which you may logically and reasonably conclude the truth of the fact in question. For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside.")

19 CALCRIM 223 – Direct and Circumstantial evidence. ("Both direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge, including intent [required element for vehicle registration fraud] and mental state and acts necessary to a conviction, and neither is necessarily more reliable than the other. Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other. You must decide whether a fact in issue has been proved based on all the evidence.")

20 Vehicle Code 20 VC – False statements [may be charged along with vehicle registration fraud]. (“It is unlawful to use a false or fictitious name, or to knowingly make any false statement or knowingly conceal any material fact in any document filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of the California Highway Patrol.”)

21 Vehicle Code 40000.5 VC – Misdemeanors. (“A violation of any of the following provisions shall constitute a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: Section 20, relating to false statements.”)

22 Penal Code 472 PC – Forgery of a public seal [related to crime of Vehicle Code 4463 registration fraud]. (“Every person who, with intent to defraud another, forges, or counterfeits the seal of this State, the seal of any public officer authorized by law, the seal of any Court of record, or the seal of any corporation, or any other public seal authorized or recognized by the laws of this State, or of any other State, Government, or country, or who falsely makes, forges, or counterfeits any impression purporting to be an impression of any such seal, or who has in his possession any such counterfeited seal or impression thereof, knowing it to be counterfeited, and willfully conceals the same, is guilty of forgery.”)

23 Penal Code 473 PC – Forgery; punishment [compare to penalties for vehicle registration fraud]. (“(a) Forgery is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”)

24 Vehicle Code 31 VC – False information to peace officer [may be charged along with vehicle registration fraud]. (“No person shall give, either orally or in writing, information to a peace officer while in the performance of his duties under the provisions of this code when such person knows that the information is false.”)

25 Vehicle Code 40000.5 VC – Misdemeanors. (“A violation of any of the following provisions shall constitute a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: . . . Section 31, relating to giving false information.”)

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