Vehicle Code § 20 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime to provide a false name or make a knowingly false statement to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). A violation of this law is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The language of the code section reads that:
20. 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.
- giving a false social security number when filling out a vehicle registration form with the DMV.
- using a fake name when filling out a report for the CHP.
- using a fake insurance card when applying for a driver’s license.
If you are accused of a crime under this statute, you can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include showing that you:
- did not conceal a “material” fact,
- did not act knowingly, and/or
- were stopped or arrested without probable cause.
A violation of California Vehicle Code Section 20 is a misdemeanor offense (as opposed to an infraction or a felony).
The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “false statements to the DMV or CHP”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20 charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “false statements to the DMV or CHP”?
VC 20 makes it a crime to do any of the following in connection with a document filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles or a member of the California Highway Patrol:
- use a false or fictitious name,
- knowingly make a false statement, or
- knowingly conceal any material fact.1
Note that if you violate this law, and do so while under penalty of perjury, you could also be convicted of the greater offense of California Penal Code 118 PC, the state’s perjury law.
2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20 charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help you challenge charges under this code section. Three common ones include showing that you:
- did not conceal a “material” fact.
- did not knowingly make a false statement.
- were stopped or arrested by a peace officer without probable cause.
2.1. No material fact
One way that a prosecutor can convict you under this statute is by proving that you knowingly concealed a material fact. A “material fact” is one that is relevant and significant. Thus, you can contest charges by showing that, although you did conceal a fact, that fact was not material.
Consider, for example, a case where you apply for a commercial vehicle license with the DMV. In the application forms, you conceal your true weight out of embarrassment. Here, you are not guilty under VC 20 because your true weight is not considered a material fact.
2.2. Did not act knowingly
Recall that you are guilty under this statute if you knowingly make a false statement to the DMV or CHP. This means that it is always a defense to show that you did not make a false statement on purpose or with knowledge that a statement was false.
For example, consider the scenario where you are filing a report with the CHP and provide an inaccurate license plate number of your vehicle. You would not be guilty under this law if you made the mistake on accident or with a reasonable belief that the plate number was accurate.
2.3. No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can stop or arrest you for a crime. This means you can always assert the defense that law enforcement stopped or arrested you without a reasonable belief that you committed a crime.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this law is a misdemeanor offense.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.2
Note that a judge may award you with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Note, too, that while some Vehicle Code violations result in points being assessed to your driving record, a violation of this law will not produce that result.
A violation, though, will result in you having a criminal record.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to false statements to the DMV or CHP. These are:
- false information to a police officer – VC 31,
- false identification to a police officer – PC 148.9, and/or
- making a false police report of a crime – PC 148.5.
4.1. False information to a police officer – VC 31
Under Vehicle Code 31 VC, false information to a police officer is the crime where you provide false information or documentation to a police officer.
Note that while VC 20 applies to false information to the DMV or CHP, this law pertains solely to false information given to police officers.
4.2. False identification to a police officer – PC 148.9
Under Penal Code 148.9 PC, false identification to a police officer is the crime where you knowingly provide false identification to a police officer.
As with violations of VC 20, violations of this law are misdemeanor offenses that can lead up to six months in jail time.
4.3. Making a false police report of a crime – PC 148.5
Per Penal Code 148.5 PC, making a false police report of a crime is the offense where you:
- make a false report of a misdemeanor or felony, and
- do so in a report that is to a certain “authority.”
“Authority” under this statute means a:
- police officer (including a member of the CHP),
- grand jury, or
- state or local employee assigned to accept reports from citizens (like a 911 operator).
Note that if you make a false police report of a crime, and the report is to someone of the CHP, then you could be charged with both:
- false statements to the CHP, per VC 20, and
- making a false report of a crime, per PC 148.5.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Sacramento.
- California Vehicle Code 20 VC. See also Aslam v. Superior Court (2019) 41 Cal.App.5th 1029.
- California Vehicle Code 40000.5 VC.