California Vehicle Code 10501 VC makes it a criminal offense to file a false or fraudulent report of auto theft. A first-time violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1000.00.
The code section states that:
10501. (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.
- reporting to the police that a car is stolen (when it is not) in order to prevent it from getting repossessed.
- telling a peace officer that a neighbor’s car was stolen in order to pull a prank on the police and neighbor.
- falsifying an auto theft report to the authorities to help a friend commit insurance fraud.
A person accused under this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few effective defenses include the defendant showing that he/she:
- did not make a false report,
- did not act with an intent to deceive, and/or
- did not make a report to law enforcement.
A first-time violation of these laws is charged as a California misdemeanor. This is as opposed to:
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. Is it a crime to make a false report of auto theft?
- 2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating VC 10501?
- 4. Can someone get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. Is it a crime to make a false report of auto theft?
Yes. A person is guilty under this statute if a prosecutor successfully shows that:
- the defendant made or filed a false or fraudulent report with any law enforcement agency,
- the report was of the theft of a vehicle, and
- the defendant made or filed the report with the intent to deceive.1
An “intent to deceive” means that a person purposefully made false statements of fact, or knowingly failed to disclose facts, in order to trick or defraud someone.2
Note that the false or fraudulent report in these cases can be made either:
- orally, or
- in writing.3
2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
Our traffic and criminal defense lawyers advise clients that there are three effective defenses to charges under this statute. These include showing that there was:
- no false report,
- no intent to deceive, and
- no report to law enforcement.
2.1 No false report
This statute is only triggered if a person makes a false report of auto theft. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to show that:
- a car was in fact stolen, or
- he/she had a good faith (albeit false) belief that auto was taken.
2.2 No intent to deceive
Recall that an accused is only guilty under this statute if he acts with an intent to deceive. A valid defense, then, is for a defendant to show that he did not act with this requisite intent.
2.3 No report to law enforcement
Also recall that, in order to establish guilt, a prosecutor must show that a report was made to law enforcement. Therefore, a defendant can try to show his/her innocence by saying that a report was never made to the authorities. Perhaps, for example, he/she only made a false report to a friend.
3. What are the penalties for violating VC 10501?
A first-time violation of these laws is charged as a misdemeanor.
The offense is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.4
Any second or subsequent conviction becomes a wobbler offense. This means a prosecutor can charge it as either a:
- misdemeanor, or
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by custody in county jail for up to one year.5
A felony conviction is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to three years.6
Note that if either a first or subsequent conviction, a judge has the authority to award a defendant with probation in lieu of jail time. This includes either:
4. Can someone get a conviction expunged?
A person convicted of making a false report of auto theft can get the conviction expunged.
This is provided that he/she successfully completes:
- jail time, or
- probation (whichever was imposed).
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to this statute. These include:
- auto insurance fraud,
- making a false police report of a crime – PC 148.5, and
- filing false documents – PC 115.
5.1 Auto insurance fraud
Under California law, automobile insurance fraud is when a person:
- makes a knowingly false insurance claim, or otherwise deceives an insurance company, and
- does so in order to receive benefits to which he or she is not legally entitled.
Although auto insurance fraud and VC 10501 are two distinct crimes, a person can violate the latter in order to commit insurance fraud.
5.2 Making a false police report of a crime – PC 148.5
Penal Code 148.5 PC is the California statute that makes it illegal to make a false police report of a crime.
If the crime in question involves the theft of an auto, then a person can be charged under both:
- PC 148.5, and
- VC 10501.
5.3 Filing false documents – PC 115
Penal Code 115 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to knowingly file, register, or record a false or forged document in any public office within the state.
Note that this statute applies to a broad range of documents and may include a false report of an auto theft filed with a public police department. This means that, depending on the facts of a case, a person can get charged of crimes under both:
- PC 115, and
- VC 10501.
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group.
- California Vehicle Code 10501 VC.
- See, e.g., Burch v. CertainTeed Corp. (2019) 34 Cal.App.5th 341. See also People v. Hartley (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 620.
- People v. Murphy (2011) 52 Cal.4th 81.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California Vehicle Code 10501 VC.
- See same.