Did you get caught with a fake registration sticker?
Despite the fact that forging or falsifying vehicle registration sounds like a relatively insignificant crime, it's actually a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in the state prison. What's more is that a conviction could result in discipline if you hold a professional license or if you are a state employee.
But don't despair. We're here to help!
As a law firm comprised of former prosecutors and police investigators...who now use that insider experience to protect your rights...we know the most effective ways to fight these charges and keep your record clean.
Below, our California criminal defense attorneys1 address the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California's Fraud Laws; California's Forgery Laws; Criminal Convictions Involving Moral Turpitude and their Effect on State Employees; Moral Turpitude; Vehicle Code 4461 - Illegal Use of Handicap Placards; and How Criminal Convictions Subject You to Professional Discipline.
Falsifying, forging or counterfeiting vehicle registration, license plates or stickers violates California's fraud laws. "Fraud" is generally defined as a deliberate deception in order to secure an unfair or unlawful gain.
Therefore fraudulent or altered vehicle registration takes place when you intentionally interfere with the license plate, stickers or registration card in an effort to secure a financial gain or to avoid paying DMV taxes and fees.
The primary law that regulates California fraudulent vehicle registration is Vehicle Code 4463 VC. In essence, this law prohibits
- altering, forging, counterfeiting, or falsifying a vehicle registration card or registration stickers,
- fraudulently displaying, causing or permitting to be displayed, or possessing a blank, incomplete, cancelled, suspended, revoked, altered, forged, counterfeit, or false vehicle registration card or registration stickers, and
- publishing, passing, or attempting to pass as true and genuine a false, altered, forged, or counterfeited vehicle registration card or sticker.2
There are a variety of situations that qualify as falsifying registration documents under Vehicle Code 4463. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):
- registering a vehicle where you intentionally misrepresent the year of the vehicle (for example, to avoid compliance with California's smog laws),
- registering a vehicle where you intentionally understate the value of the vehicle,
- living in this state and registering a car that you own and operate in this state in another state without paying the appropriate California fees and taxes,3
- buying or using a "fake" registration sticker,
- securing another person's current registration tabs to put on your own vehicle,4 and
- forging registration documents.
Example: Defendant was convicted of Vehicle Code 4463 VC for possessing "blank" vehicle registrations. Although they appeared to be in the same format as authentic California registration cards...and even had the "seal" issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)...personal information such as the name of the owner, description of the vehicle, and the license plate number were missing. As such, they could not have been issued by the DMV and were therefore counterfeit, bringing the offense within the scope of California's fraudulent vehicle registration law.5
Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses that your California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf. Some of these include (but are not limited to):
No intent to defraud
If the prosecutor can't prove that you intentionally committed a fraud, you shouldn't be convicted of fraudulent vehicle registration. As Glendale CA criminal defense lawyer Darrell York6 explains, "If you didn't intend to defraud, you aren't guilty of violating Vehicle Code 4463 - period."
Example: Perhaps you buy a used car on Craigslist, through the Penny Saver, or from another private party. You pay that person for their car and are later stopped by the police for a traffic violation. The police notice that your registration tabs look suspicious and, when they review your registration certificate, arrest you because it's a counterfeit.
When you bought your car, you bought it believing you were making an honest purchase. It turns out the seller sold you a stolen car with forged documents. If you didn't know this was the case...and therefore didn't intentionally commit a fraud...you should not be held criminally liable for this conduct.
Absent very clear evidence, your intent to defraud can be difficult to prove. In fact, most 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 can be inferred from the surrounding circumstances.
Example: Referring back to the example above where the defendant possessed blank registration cards, the defendant claimed that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had the intent to defraud.
However, the court pointed out that not only did the defendant possess the blank registration cards but that "they were in rolls as though they had come off a printing press. There were several forms on a single sheet. He also had possession of blank sheets of Selective Service cards and a large paper describing how to make a California driver's license. From these facts...the court could reasonably infer that defendant possessed the requisite intent to defraud."7
But in cases where the circumstantial evidence doesn't rise to this level...and when there is insufficient "direct" evidence...you should be acquitted of the charge.
The fact is that most criminal cases in this state resolve prior to a California jury trial through plea bargaining. Plea bargaining allows you the opportunity to plead guilty 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 he/she will be able to secure a guilty verdict, he/she may be willing to accept a plea to a less serious charge, such as a traffic infraction...or to dismiss the case in exchange for paying a fine.
California's fraudulent vehicle registration law --Vehicle Code 4463-- is what's known as a wobbler. A "wobbler" is an offense that prosecutors may choose to file as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on
- the facts of the case, and
- your criminal history.
If convicted of falsifying / forging / altering vehicle registration as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.8
If convicted of this offense as a felony, you face 16 months, or two or three years in the California state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.9
In addition to the jail / prison terms and fines above, a conviction for falsifying or forging California vehicle registration also subjects you to possible sanctions by the DMV.
If the DMV believes that you "committed any fraud in any application", the DMV may
- refuse to issue or renew a driver's license to you, or
- may revoke your current driver's license.
This means that if, for example, you intentionally understate your vehicle's worth on your registration application, the DMV may take any of these actions against you.10
Similarly, the DMV may refuse to issue, renew, or transfer registration if
- the application contains any false or fraudulent statement, or
- the applicant unlawfully uses any registration certificate.11
There are a wide variety of offenses that are closely related to California's fraudulent vehicle registration law. Many of these crimes may be charged in connection with a Vehicle Code 4463 VC violation. Some of these related offenses include (but are not limited to):
- forge, counterfeit, or falsify a disabled person placard...that is, a placard issued by the DMV bearing the universal "wheelchair symbol" that entitles the holder to special parking privileges,
- pass or attempt to pass as true and genuine a false, forged, or counterfeited disabled person placard knowing it is false, forged, or counterfeited, or
- acquire, possess, sell, or offer to sell as genuine a counterfeit disabled person placard,
you violate California Vehicle Code 4463(b) VC. If convicted, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a county jail and a $500 to $1,000 fine.12
Similarly, if you fraudulently display or cause another person to display a forged, counterfeit, or false disabled person placard, you violate Vehicle Code 4463(c) VC and face either
- a civil penalty of $250 to $1,000, or
- a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for six months and the same fine.13
In addition to or in lieu of the fines listed above for violating Vehicle Code 4463(b) or (c), the court may impose a $2,500 civil penalty.14
∗∗Note: You may also find helpful information in our article on Vehicle Code 4461: Illegal Use of Handicap Placards. The Vehicle Code 4461 article addresses the penalties for lending out a placard to a third party, or improperly using disabled person's placard.
If you knowingly make a false statement or knowingly conceal any material fact in a registration document that you file with the California DMV, you violate this law.15 If convicted, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.16
If you knowingly provide false information to a peace officer...for example...providing him/her with forged or counterfeit registration documents...you violate this law.17 If convicted, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.18
4.4. California Penal Code 472 VC - Forgery or counterfeiting of seals;
possession and concealment of same
If you forge or possess a forged "seal"...such as the DMV seal that appears on a registration document...you are guilty of violating California's forgery laws under this offense.19 If convicted of this "wobbler", you face the same penalties as you face for violating Vehicle Code 4463 VC above.20
Call us for help...
For questions about California's fraudulent vehicle registration laws, 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.
For information about Nevada forgery law, go to our page on Nevada forgery law.
1Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
2Vehicle Code 4463 VC -- California's fraudulent vehicle registration law. ("(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 in the state prison 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.")
3California Vehicle Code 8804 VC -- Registration or renewal of registration of vehicle in foreign jurisdiction; failure to pay fees and taxes in this state. ("Every person who, while a resident, as defined in Section 516, of this state, with respect to any vehicle owned by him and operated in this state, registers or renews the registration for the vehicle in a foreign jurisdiction, without the payment of appropriate fees and taxes to this state, is guilty of [California's fraudulent vehicle registration laws] a misdemeanor.")
4People v. Wilson (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 1053.
See also U.S. v. Mayo, C.A.9 (2005) 394 F.3d 1271, 1276.
5People v. Wilkins (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 763.
6Glendale CA criminal defense attorney Darrell York uses his inside knowledge as a former Glendale police officer to defend clients throughout the area, including Burbank, Pasadena, Altadena, Van Nuys, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
7People v. Wilkins, endnote 5, at 773.
8See Vehicle Code 4463 VC -- California's fraudulent vehicle registration law, endnote 2, above.
See also California 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, 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.")
10California 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 [...that is, who has violated California's fraudulent vehicle registration laws].")
See also California Vehicle Code 13359 -- 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.")
11California Vehicle Code 4750 VC -- Grounds requiring refusal. ("The department shall refuse registration, or renewal or transfer of registration, upon any of the following grounds: (a) The application contains any false or fraudulent statement.")
See also California Vehicle Code 4751 VC -- Grounds permitting refusal. ("The department may refuse registration or the renewal or transfer of registration of a vehicle in any of the following events...(c) If the department determines that the applicant has made or permitted unlawful use of any registration certificate, certificate of ownership, or license plates.")
12Vehicle Code 4463 VC -- California's fraudulent vehicle registration law, endnote 2, above. ("(b) A person who, with intent to prejudice, damage, or defraud, commits any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for six months, a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, which penalty shall not be suspended: (1) Forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a disabled person placard or a comparable placard relating to parking privileges for disabled persons provided for by a foreign jurisdiction, or forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a disabled person placard with intent to represent it as issued by the department. (2) Passes, or attempts to pass, as true and genuine, a false, forged, or counterfeit disabled person placard knowing it to be false, forged, or counterfeited. (3) Acquires, possesses, sells, or offers for sale a genuine or counterfeit disabled person placard.")
13See same. ("(c) A person who, with fraudulent intent, displays or causes or permits to be displayed a forged, counterfeit, or false disabled person placard, is subject to the issuance of a notice of parking violation imposing a civil penalty of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for which enforcement shall be governed by the procedures set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 40200) of Chapter 1 of Division 17 or is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for six months, a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, which penalty shall not be suspended.")
14California Vehicle Code 4463.3 VC -- Additional civil penalties; convictions; forgery, alteration, counterfeit or falsification of disabled person placard. ("In addition to, or instead of, any fine imposed for conviction of a violation of subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 4463, the court may impose a civil penalty of not more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) for each conviction.")
15California Vehicle Code 20 VC -- False statements. ("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.")
16California 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. Section 27, relating to impersonating a member of the California Highway Patrol. Section 31, relating to giving false information.")
See also California Penal Code 19 PC -- Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed. ("Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.")
17California Vehicle Code 31 VC -- False information to peace officer. ("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.")
18Endnote 19, above.
19California Penal Code 472 PC -- Forgery or counterfeiting of seals; possession and concealment of counterfeited seal. ("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 [and, if the seal appears on a registration document, then of violating California's fraudulent vehicle registration laws].")
20California Penal Code 473 PC -- Forgery; punishment. ("Forgery is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.")
See also California Penal Code 18 PC -- Punishment for felony not otherwise prescribed; alternate sentence to county jail. ("Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a felony, or to be punishable by imprisonment in a state prison, is punishable by imprisonment in any of the state prisons for 16 months, or two or three years; provided, however, every offense which is prescribed by any law of the state to be a felony punishable by imprisonment in any of the state prisons or by a fine, but without an alternate sentence to the county jail, may be punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by a fine, or by both.")
See also California Penal Code 672 PC, endnote 8, above.