Vehicle Code 10852 VC – Tampering with a Vehicle

car thief looking inside vehicle

Vehicle Code 10852 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to either:

  1. willfully tamper with or injure a vehicle as a whole, or
  2. willfully break or remove individual parts of a vehicle.

Tamper with” is defined as “to interfere with.”

VC 10852 states:

“No person shall either individually or in association with one or more other persons, willfully injure or tamper with any vehicle or the contents thereof or break or remove any part of a vehicle without the consent of the owner.”

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • Jerome takes the license plate off his neighbor's car.
  • Paco goes into a parking lot and takes the hood ornament off of a Porsche.
  • Kathy is walking home, notices a car with an open door, and looks in the vehicle's glove box.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused of a crime under this statute. These include showing that the defendant:

Penalties

A violation of vehicle code 10852 is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to an infraction or a California felony). The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may award a defendant with summary (or informal) probation.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

1. What is prohibited under California Vehicle Code 10852 VC?

Vehicle Code 10852 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to either:

  1. willfully tamper with or injure a vehicle as a whole, or
  2. willfully break or remove individual parts of a vehicle.1

Tamper with” is defined as “to interfere with.”2

Note that for an accused to be guilty under this statute, it is necessary that he act without the consent of the vehicle owner.3

Also note that someone commits an act willfully when he does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that the person intends to:

  • break the law,
  • hurt someone else, or
  • gain any advantage.4

A person can violate VC 10852 by either:

  • acting alone, or
  • acting in association with one or more persons.5

A person acts “in association” with one or more other people, when he joins with another to accomplish a common unlawful purpose.6

2. Are there legal defenses to accusations of violating VC 10852

A person accused of violating this statute can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses to this crime are:

  1. consent
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. Consent

Recall that VC 10852 states that a person is guilty of tampering with a vehicle only if he acts without the consent of the vehicle owner. This means it is always a legal defense for an accused to show that, while he did something with a vehicle, he had the owner's approval to do so. For example, maybe he got something from within the glove box after the owner asked him to do so.

2.2. Falsely accused

Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of

  • jealousy,
  • revenge, and
  • anger.

Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating VC 10852.

2.3. No probable cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating this statute, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

man being led to jail

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

A violation of vehicle code 10852 is charged as a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.7

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may award a defendant with summary (or informal) probation.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to tampering with a vehicle. These are:

  1. auto burglary – PC 459,
  2. joyriding – VC 10851, and
  3. malicious mischief to a vehicle – VC 10853.

4.1. Auto burglary – PC 459

Under California law, burglary of an automobile is actually a subset of the general crime of burglary under Penal Code 459 PC.

The crime takes place when someone enters a locked automobile or its trunk, with the intent to either:

  • steal the car (also known as "grand theft auto" or "GTA"),
  • steal property contained in the car (i.e., commit the California crime of petty theft or grand theft), or
  • commit any other California felony inside the vehicle.8

Auto burglary is a form of so-called "second-degree" burglary in California.9

Second-degree burglary is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the prosecutor's discretion.10

If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.11

If charged as a felony, the jail sentence may be 16 months, two years, or three years.12

4.2. Joyriding – VC 10851

California Vehicle Code 10851 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to drive or take someone else's vehicle without that person's consent.

A crime committed under VC 10851 is sometimes referred to as “joyriding.”

Under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, the crime of unlawfully taking or driving a car is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a fine of up to $5,000.13

If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term of:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.14

4.3. Malicious mischief to a vehicle – VC 10853

Vehicle Code 10853 states that it is a crime for a person to commit malicious mischief to a vehicle.

Under VC 10853, a person can commit malicious mischief in one of two ways.

First, a person commits malicious mischief if:

  1. he climbs into or upon a car while it is in motion or at rest, and
  2. he does so with the intent to commit malicious mischief.15

Second, a person can also commit malicious mischief to a vehicle if:

  1. he enters a car and attempts to manipulate its levers, starting mechanism, brakes, or any other mechanism or device of the vehicle, and
  2. he does so with the intent to commit malicious mischief.16

California law states that “malicious mischief” is when a person defaces, damages, or destroys the property of another without consent.17

Under Vehicle Code 10853 VC, malicious mischief is a misdemeanor offense.18

As such, it is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.19

Were you accused of tampering with a vehicle in California? Call us for help…

california criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 10852, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For similar accusations in Colorado, please see our article on: “Tampering with a Motor Vehicle in Colorado CRS 42–5–103.”


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 10852. This code section states: “No person shall either individually or in association with one or more other persons, willfully injure or tamper with any vehicle or the contents thereof or break or remove any part of a vehicle without the consent of the owner.”

  2. People v. Anderson (1975), 15 Cal.3d 806. See also People v. Mooney (1983), 145 Cal.App.3d 502.

  3. California Vehicle Code 10852 VC.

  4. 1 CALCRIM 1821 - Tampering with a Vehicle (VC 10852).

  5. California Vehicle Code 10852 VC.

  6. 1 CALCRIM 1821 - Tampering with a Vehicle (VC 10852).

  7. California Penal Code 19.

  8. California Penal Code 459.

  9. California Penal Code 460.

  10. California Penal Code 461.

  11. See same.

  12. See same.

  13. California Vehicle Code 10851a.

  14. See same.

  15. California Vehicle Code 10853.

  16. See same.

  17. See, for example, California Penal Code 594.

  18. California Vehicle Code 40000.9 VC.

  19. California Penal Code Section 19.

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