Vehicle Code 21464 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to deface or interfere with a traffic control device. A violation typically results in a fine, but it could lead to a felony charge and jail or prison time if it leads to the death of another person.
The complete text of the statute reads as follows:
21464. (a) A person, without lawful authority, may not deface, injure, attach any material or substance to, knock down, or remove, nor may a person shoot at, any official traffic control device, traffic guidepost, traffic signpost, motorist callbox, or historical marker placed or erected as authorized or required by law, nor may a person without lawful authority deface, injure, attach any material or substance to, or remove, nor may a person shoot at, any inscription, shield, or insignia on any device, guide, or marker.
(b) A person may not use, and a vehicle, other than an authorized emergency vehicle or a public transit passenger vehicle, may not be equipped with, any device, including, but not limited to, a mobile infrared transmitter, that is capable of sending a signal that interrupts or changes the sequence patterns of an official traffic control signal unless that device or use is authorized by the Department of Transportation pursuant to Section 21350 or by local authorities pursuant to Section 21351.
(c) A person may not buy, possess, manufacture, install, sell, offer for sale, or otherwise distribute a device described in subdivision (b), including, but not limited to, a mobile infrared transmitter (MIRT), unless the purchase, possession, manufacture, installation, sale, offer for sale, or distribution is for the use of the device by a peace officer or other person authorized to operate an authorized emergency vehicle or a public transit passenger vehicle, in the scope of his or her duties.
(d) Any willful violation of subdivision (a), (b), or (c) that results in injury to, or the death of, a person is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code, or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, and by a fine of not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
(e) Any willful violation of subdivision (a), (b), or (c) that does not result in injury to, or the death of, a person is punishable by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).
(f) The court shall allow the offender to perform community service designated by the court in lieu of all or part of any fine imposed under this section.
Examples of unlawful acts
- hitting a stop sign with a baseball bat.
- coloring over a yield sign with a can of spray paint.
- shooting at a traffic light.
A person can challenge an allegation of violating this law with a legal defense. A few common defenses used by criminal defense attorneys include them showing that:
- the accused did not injure a “traffic control device,”
- the accused did not act intentionally, and
- the defendant had lawful authority to act.
A violation of California Vehicle Code Section 21464 is typically punished with a fine of up to $5,000.
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by custody in county jail for up to six months.
A felony conviction is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. Is it illegal to interfere with a traffic control device?
- 2. What are the best defenses to Vehicle Code 21464 VC?
- 3. What happens if I’m convicted?
- 4. Can a person get an expungement?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. Is it illegal to interfere with a traffic control device?
Vehicle Code 21464a makes it an offense for any person to deface or injure any:
- traffic control device,
- traffic guidepost,
- traffic signpost,
- motorist callbox, or
- historical marker.1
The statute also makes it illegal for a person to either:
- use a device capable of interrupting a traffic control signal’s sequence pattern, or
- buy, possess, make, sell, or distribute such a device.2
2. What are the best defenses to Vehicle Code 21464 VC?
Our criminal defense lawyers advise clients that there are three common defenses to accusations under these laws. These include the accused showing that:
- there was no traffic control device.
- he/she did not act intentionally.
- he/she had authority to act.
2.1 No traffic control device
VC 21464 only applies to traffic control devices. This means it is always a defense for a person to show that, while he may have injured an object, it was not a traffic control device or something similar.
2.2 No intent
A defendant must intentionally injure a device to be guilty under this statute. A defense, therefore, is for an accused to show that he did not act with a specific purpose to deface. Perhaps, for example, the defendant injured a device on accident.
2.3 Authority to act
Recall that the language of this statute says that a person is guilty only if they act without lawful authority. A defendant, then, can challenge an allegation by showing that he/she had some type of legal authority to injure or alter a traffic control device.
3. What happens if I’m convicted?
Most violations of this law result in a maximum fine of $5,000.3
If, though, a person violates these laws and the violation causes injury or death to another person, then he/she commits a wobbler offense. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either a:
- misdemeanor, or
A misdemeanor conviction can lead to:
- a jail sentence of up to six months, and/or
- a fine between $5,000 and $10,000.4
A felony conviction can result in:
- a state prison term of up to three years, and/or
- a fine between $5,000 and $10,000.5
4. Can a person get an expungement?
A person convicted under this statute can get the conviction expunged provided that he/she receives a fine or a misdemeanor conviction. This is provided the defendant successfully completes any:
- jail term, or
Most felony convictions, however, cannot get expunged. This is because California law says that expungements are not allowed for crimes that result in a prison term.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three offenses related to defacing or injuring a traffic control device. These are:
- vandalism – PC 594,
- altering, changing, or destroying a VIN – VC 10750, and
- disturbing the peace – PC 415.
5.1 Vandalism – PC 594
Penal Code 594 PC is the California statute that defines vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying, or defacing another person’s property.
Note that if a person damaged a traffic control device intentionally and maliciously, he/she could be charged under both:
- VC 21464, and
- PC 594.
5.2 Altering, changing, or destroying a VIN – VC 10750
Vehicle Code 10750 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person intentionally to alter, change or destroy a vehicle identification number (VIN).
As with VC 21464, a person is only guilty under this law if he/she acts intentionally.
5.3 Disturbing the peace – PC 415
Under Penal Code 415 PC, California law defines the crime of disturbing the peace as:
- playing excessively loud music,
- getting into a fight with someone, or
- using certain offensive language or fighting words.
Unlike with VC 21464, a prosecutor will not charge this crime as a felony. Violations of the law result in misdemeanor or infraction charges.
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 21464a VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21464b and c VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21464e VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21464d VC.
- See same.