Owning or operating a chop shop (Colorado 18-4-420 (1) C.R.S.)

young man removing windshield from car

Ownership or Operation of a Chop Shop

Section 18-4-420 (1) of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) makes it illegal to own or operate a “chop shop.”

A chop shop is anyplace where stolen vehicles are disassembled or altered so they can be sold or otherwise disposed of. To qualify as a "chop shop," a place must be in the business of selling or disposing of stolen vehicles or parts, or there must be at least two unlawfully obtained vehicles or six major vehicle parts from two or more vehicles.

Colorado chop shop penalties

Owning or operating a chop shop is a Colorado class 4 felony. It can be punished by:

  • 2 -6 years in Colorado prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000 - $500,000.

Defenses to owning / operating a chop shop

There are numerous defenses to chop shop activity in Colorado. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):

  • The business was not a “chop shop”;
  • You didn't operate the chop shop;
  • You didn't know your business was being used as a chop shop;
  • You didn't know the vehicle or parts were stolen;
  • You didn't know that the vehicle or parts were intended for sale; or
  • The chop shop was discovered during an illegal search.

To help you better understand Colorado's law against owning or operating a chop shop, our Denver criminal defense lawyers discuss the following in more detail, below:

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1. What is a chop shop?

Under Colorado law, a “chop shop” is any building, lot, facility, or other structure or premise where:

  • Any person or persons possess, receive, store, disassemble, or alter, including the alteration or concealment of any identifying feature or number, an unlawfully obtained motor vehicle or major component motor vehicle part for the purpose of using, selling, or disposing of the motor vehicle or major component motor vehicle part; or
  • Two or more unlawfully obtained motor vehicles are present for the purpose of alteration, sale, or disposal; or
  • Six or more unlawfully obtained major component motor vehicle parts from two or more motor vehicles are present for the purpose of alteration, sale, or disposal.1

2. Owning or operating a chop shop

A person commits ownership or operation of a chop shop if he or she knowingly:

  • Owns or operates a chop shop, knowing that it is a chop shop, or conspires with another person to own or operate a chop shop, knowing that it is a chop shop;
  • Transports an unlawfully obtained motor vehicle or major component motor vehicle part to or from a chop shop, knowing that it is a chop shop; or
  • Sells or transfers to, or purchases or receives from, a chop shop, knowing that it is a chop shop, an unlawfully obtained motor vehicle or major component motor vehicle part.2

In Colorado you commit a crime “knowingly” when:

  • You are aware that your conduct is one prohibited by a criminal statute, or
  • You are aware that conduct is practically certain to cause a result prohibited by a criminal statute.3

3. Colorado chop shop penalties

Unlawfully owning or operating a chop shop is a Colorado class 4 felony.4 Consequences can include:

  • 2 -6 years in Colorado prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000 - $500,000.

Operating a chop shop may also cause you to lose or not qualify for a Colorado or Denver business license

If you are part of an organization that commits Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft in order to sell the cars or parts, you may also face more serious charges for racketeering under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (18-17-101 C.R.S. and subsequent sections) or federal RICO laws.

4. Defenses to operating a chop shop

Colorado's chop shop laws are detailed and full of nuances. As a result, there are numerous defenses to charges of owning or operating a chop shop. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):

The business was not a “chop shop”

Colorado's definition of “chop shop” is quite exact. If your business doesn't meet the definition, you are not guilty under 18-4-420 C.R.S.

Reasons your business might not meet the definition include that only one vehicle was unlawfully obtained or that there was no intent to sell or dispose of any stolen parts that were present.

You didn't operate the chop shop

18-4-420 C.R.S. is not intended to punish people who have nothing to do with the illegal activity. So, for instance, if your job was simply running errands or answering the phone, you are not guilty of operating a chop shop.

You didn't know your business was being used as a chop shop

Even if you owned the business, you are not guilty if you didn't know what it was being used for.

  • Example: Ed owns an auto repair business in Denver. Unbeknownst to Ed, some of his employees are using the premises as an after-hours chop shop. Unless Ed has reason to know, he is not guilty under 18-4-420 C.R.S.

You didn't know the vehicle or parts were stolen

If someone else has you working on a vehicle, but you don't know it is stolen, you are not guilty of operating a chop shop.

The chop shop was discovered during an illegal search

Sometimes evidence is found as the result of an illegal search and seizure. If this occurs, your Denver criminal defense attorney can bring a motion to suppress the illegally seized evidence.

Evidence seized as the result of an illegal search cannot be used against you in court. A successful motion to suppress can, therefore, lead the prosecutor to offer a plea bargain to lesser charges or even drop the case entirely.

Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been charged with operating a chop shop under Colorado 18-4-420 C.R.S. we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our caring Denver chop shop lawyers know that the police make mistakes and that anyone can be falsely accused. We'll listen to your side of the story and help you come up with the best defense to your Colorado chop shop charges.

To speak to one of our experienced Denver criminal lawyers, fill out the form on this page or call us at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112

To learn about the related offense of altering or removing a VIN or possessing a vehicle with an altered VIN, please see our article on the Colorado crime of VIN tampering.


Legal references:

  1. 18-4-420 (5)(a) C.R.S.
  2. 18-4-420 (1) C.R.S.
  3. 18-1-501 (6) C.R.S.
  4. 18-4-420 (2) C.R.S.

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