Making a False Report of Auto Theft
Vehicle Code 10501 VC

California Vehicle Code 10501 VC provides for criminal penalties for people who falsely report an auto theft to a law enforcement agency.1

This crime is a more specific variation on the broader offense of making a false report of a crime in California.

People are most often charged with filing false reports of auto theft in connection with alleged auto insurance fraud schemes. However, VC 10501 charges can be filed in a variety of situations.

The legal definition of filing a false auto theft report

The legal definition of the crime of falsely reporting an auto theft is as follows:

  1. You made or filed a false or fraudulent report with any law enforcement agency;
  2. The report was of the theft of a vehicle required to be registered under the California Vehicle Code; and
  3. You made or filed the report with intent to deceive.2

The false or fraudulent report of a stolen vehicle can be either oral or in writing.3

Example: Mary crashes her car into a tree. She is unhurt, but the car is pretty much totaled.

Mary would like to collect the car insurance proceeds without having her insurance premium go up. So she walks away from the accident and calls a cab. The next morning she calls the police and tells them her car has been stolen.

Mary is guilty of making a false report of a stolen car.

As we noted above, even though this crime is most often charged in connection with attempts to commit auto insurance fraud, that doesn't have to be the case. As long as you intend to deceive law enforcement for any reason, you are guilty of this crime.

Example: Henry has a teenage daughter named Jill. After some bad behavior on Jill's part, Henry punishes her by telling her she cannot use his car for a month.

One night Henry sees Jill sneak out of the house and drive off in his car. He decides to call the police and reporting that the car has been stolen.

His idea is that police will stop Jill in the car and arrest her on suspicion of grand theft auto—and that this will teach her a lesson she'll never forget.

Henry is guilty of making a false report of auto theft because he intended to deceive the police.

That said, it is important that you do actually intend to deceive when you make the false report. If you lack such intent, you are not guilty of filing a false report of auto theft.4

Example: Let's return to our example of Henry and Jill from above.

Say Jill does sneak out of the house in Henry's car—but Henry does not see her go. He finds his car gone and has no idea Jill has taken it. He assumes it has been stolen, so he calls the police and reports it stolen.

Henry is not guilty of VC 10501 because he lacked intent to deceive.

If you file a false written report of an auto theft, you will be charged with falsely reporting an auto theft—and NOT with the more serious offense of Penal Code 115 PC filing false documents.5

Penalties for falsely reporting a car theft

For a first offense, making a false report of auto theft is a misdemeanor in California law.6

The potential penalties for falsely reporting a vehicle theft are:

However, if you have been previously convicted of filing a false auto theft report, then the offense becomes a wobbler in California. This means that the prosecutor may choose to charge it either as a misdemeanor or as a California felony.8

In this case, the potential misdemeanor jail sentence increases to a maximum of one (1) year.9

The potential penalties for filing false reports of auto theft as a felony are sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in county jail under California's realignment program, and/or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).10

Legal defenses against Vehicle Code 10501 charges

One of the most common legal defenses for people charged with filing a false report of auto theft in California is that they did not intend to deceive.

According to Bakersfield criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse11:

“If you are being charged with filing a false report of an auto theft rather than with a more serious offense like auto insurance fraud, there is a good chance that the prosecutors do not have strong evidence that your intent was to deceive or defraud. If they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had such intent, then you are not guilty of making a false vehicle theft report.”

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For questions about the crime of Vehicle Code 10501 VC making a false report of auto theft , 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 more information on Nevada laws on making a false police report, please see our page on Nevada laws on making a false police report.

Legal References:

1 Vehicle Code 10501 VC – False report of theft; prior conviction; penalty. (“(a) It is unlawful for any person to make or file a false or fraudulent report of theft of a vehicle required to be registered under this code with any law enforcement agency with intent to deceive. (b) If a person has been previously convicted of a violation of subdivision (a), he or she is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months, or two or three years, or in a county jail for not to exceed one year.”)

2 Same.

3 People v. Murphy (2011) 52 Cal.4th 81, 89. (“Vehicle Code section 10501, on the other hand, applies to any false stolen vehicle report that is “ma[d]e” or “file[d].” The plain language of section 10501 does not require that the report be in writing. Although no published case has interpreted section 10501, its use of the phrase “make or file” a false report indicates an intent to include both an oral report—which can be “ma[d]e”—and a written report—which can be “file[d].””)

4 Vehicle Code 10501 VC – False report of theft; prior conviction; penalty, endnote 1 above.

5 People v. Murphy, endnote 3 above, at 94-95. (“Consequently, the filing of a false vehicle theft report in violation of **1225 Vehicle Code section 10501 would commonly result in a violation of Penal Code section 115. Accordingly, under the Williamson rule, we infer that the Legislature, in specifying that such conduct constitutes a misdemeanor, intended to create an exception to the felony punishment specified in the *95 more general statute.”)

6 Vehicle Code 40000.9 VC – Misdemeanors. (“A violation of any of the following provisions shall constitute a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: Section 10501, relating to false report of vehicle theft. . . .”)

7 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 [such as false reports of vehicle theft] 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.”)

8 Vehicle Code 10501 VC – False report of theft; prior conviction; penalty, endnote 1 above.

9 Same.

10 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, 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 [such as felony false reports of a stolen vehicle], in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)

11 Bakersfield criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse is the founder and Managing Attorney of Shouse Law Group. He served five years in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, prosecuting more than 60 criminal trials with an astonishing 96% success rate in felony jury trials to verdict. Now Mr. Shouse defends clients accused of gun crimes, drug crimes, DUI and everything in between, including filing false reports of auto theft.


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