Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Yes, the possession of a stolen vehicle identification number (VIN) is a crime. Depending on the state, it is usually a severe misdemeanor or a low-level felony. Convictions can carry up to several years in prison. However, prosecutors generally have to prove that the defendant knew the VIN was stolen and intended to harm a third party.
In general, possessing a stolen VIN is a crime. In many states, there is a specific criminal law that covers the offense. In other states, the offense falls under a general criminal statute covering the possession of stolen property. These statutes generally require 3 elements of the crime:
In some states, the offense covers the simple possession of the vehicle that is known to have a stolen VIN.
In New York, for example, the crime of possessing a stolen VIN covers scenarios where a defendant knowingly possesses:
Violations are Class E felonies. These are the least severe type of felony in the state of New York. They carry prison sentences of between 1 year and 4 months and 4 years. However, defendants can be sentenced to probation in lieu of jail time.
Illinois, however, is one of the states that does not have a specific statute for possession of a stolen VIN. There, the offense falls under its general statute for possession of a stolen motor vehicle cases. This criminal law forbids:
Depending on the value of the vehicle, the criminal charges can be up to a Class 2 felony, which is more severe than in many other states. These stolen vehicle charges carry between 3 and 7 years in prison in Illinois, as well as up to $25,000 in fines.
Hiring a criminal attorney is often the best way to handle these serious legal matters.
A vehicle identification number, or VIN, is a series of numbers and letters that is unique to every motor vehicle or towed vehicle.
VINs have been in use in the U.S. since 1954. From then until 1981, car manufacturers were responsible for providing their own VIN systems. In 1981, the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated the current 17-character VIN. In the U.S., these characters identify the:
The VIN is generally found in 2 places on a motor vehicle:
It can also be found on the vehicle’s title and on the driver’s insurance card and insurance policy.
In most states, possessing a stolen VIN is a misdemeanor or a low-level felony. Where it is a misdemeanor, it carries up to a year in jail. Where it is a felony, it generally carries up to a few years in prison, like in New York.
In addition to a jail or prison sentence, convictions can also come with:
Defendants will also have a blemish on their criminal record. This can make it more difficult to:
3 of the most common legal defenses to a charge of possessing a stolen VIN are:
A key component of possessing a stolen VIN is to know that it was stolen. If the defendant was not aware that it was a stolen VIN, and had very little reason to suspect that it was, it can be a strong defense. This is often the case when a driver purchases a car in a seemingly legitimate sale, only to find that the VIN was defaced.
Similarly, police entrapment is a legal defense to a charge of possessing a stolen VIN. These cases often begin when an undercover police officer from a law enforcement agency sells an unsuspecting buyer a car without a VIN. If the officer hides any signs that the VIN is missing or is suspicious, or lures the buyer into the purchase, it can support an entrapment defense.
An unlawful search is also a common defense. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits searches that are unreasonable. If, for example, a police officer pulls a driver over for no reason and discovers that the vehicle’s VIN has been altered, the lack of probable cause for the traffic stop may make the search an unlawful one. However, if the officer initiated the stop because there were signs that the driver was under the influence (DUI) or another offense that could lead to a traffic ticket, it can amount to probable cause and make the search a lawful one.
A criminal defense lawyer from a local law firm can help defendants protect their rights through the entire process of the criminal case.
In California, the possession of a stolen VIN has its own statute: California Vehicle Code 10752 VC. This statute makes it a crime to sell a VIN or possess a stolen or fraudulent VIN.
To secure a conviction under this statute, prosecutors have to prove 2 things beyond a reasonable doubt:
The intent to harm or defraud is a crucial part of the crime. If prosecutors cannot prove this element, the defendant should not be liable for the offense.
In California, possessing a stolen VIN is a wobbler. District attorneys can charge it is as a felony or as a misdemeanor. They make this decision based on:
If charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction carries:
Judges may impose misdemeanor (summary) probation instead of jail time.
If charged as a felony, a conviction carries:
Judges have the discretion to impose felony (formal) probation instead of jail time.
The best way for a defendant to avoid these serious repercussions is to show that they are not liable for the criminal charges. Hiring a criminal defense attorney from a reputable law office can be the most reliable way to make this happen.
In California, there are several related offenses that may be charged alongside the possession of a stolen VIN. 2 of the most common are:
These can substantially increase the potential penalties of a conviction.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.