In the state of California, there is a huge underground black market for all types of automobile parts. Many parts are interchangeable with other cars and the stolen parts are hard to identify.
Therefore, many people steal vehicles for the sole purpose to strip them down completely and sell the parts individually. This type of infamous illegal theft crime is commonly known as a “chop shop.”
Under California Vehicle Code 10801, it's a crime to knowingly own or operate a chop shop, and the statute carries stiff penalties for anyone who is convicted.
California Vehicle Code 250 describes a chop shop as any premises where any motor vehicle or part was obtained by theft, fraud, or conspiracy is altered, destroyed, disassembled, dismantled, or stored to alter, deface, disguise, counterfeit, forge, or to remove identity.
This includes the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the vehicle or vehicle part in an effort to misrepresent the identity, prevent the identification, or dispose of or sell the vehicle or part.
A common example includes a situation where someone operates a garage where car thieves bring them stolen cars. The man who owns and operates the garage strips down each vehicle and then sells the individual parts to other people. In this classic scenario, he could be charged with operating a chop shop in violation of Vehicle Code Section 10801.
To give readers a complete understanding of the laws on owning or operating a chop shop, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an outline below.
Definition of VC 10801- Operating a Chop Shop
California Vehicle Code 10801 defines the crime of owning or operating a chop shop as:
Anyone who knowingly and intentionally owns or operates a chop shop is guilty of a public crime and if convicted, will be punished by imprisonment for two, three, or four years, or a fine up to $50,000, or both, or up to one year in a county jail, or a fine up to $1,000, or both.
It should be noted that “knowingly” operating a chop shop means you knew you were involved in a chop shop, the vehicle or the vehicle parts were illegally obtained, and you also knew the parts were obtained to disguise the identity or unlawfully sell them.
It should also be noted that “operating” a chop shop doesn't mean you have to own or oversee the operation of a chop shop to be guilty of violating VC 10801. In other words, it's sufficient for a conviction if you were just actively involved in the unlawful operation of the chop shop, even if it's not planned.
What Does the Prosecutor Have to Prove?
In order to be convicted of owning or operating a chop shop in violation of California Vehicle Code 10801, the prosecutor has to be able to prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 1752 Jury instructions:
- Defendant knowingly and intentionally operated a chop shop
- Defendant knew the vehicle or parts were obtained by theft or fraud
- Defendant knew the vehicle or parts were obtained in order to
- Sell or dispose the vehicle or vehicle parts, or
- Alter, disguise, or remove with intent to misrepresent or prevent identification
It should be noted that actually proving a defendant “knew” is frequently difficult for a prosecutor. They will typically depend of circumstantial evidence, and a jury could convict if all the circumstances are sufficient to establish guilt.
Penalties for VC 10801 Operating a Chop Shop
California Vehicle Code 10801 is a “wobbler,” meaning the prosecutor has the discretion to file the charges as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.
The decision on how to file the case is normally based on the amount of vehicles involved, total value of damages, level of chop shop operation, and your prior criminal record.
If convicted of VC 10801 misdemeanor case, you are facing up to one year in a county jail, a fine up to $1,000, and summary probation. If convicted of VC 10801 felony case, you are facing up to four years in a county jail, a fine up to $50,000, and formal probation.
If the judge sentences you to probation, then you will be required to following certain terms and conditions. These include monthly meetings with a probation officer, community service hours, search of your property without warrant, and victim restitution. Any violation of the terms of probation can result in a serving time in jail.
Related California Offenses for Vehicle Code 10801
Penal Code 459 – Auto Burglary Penal Code 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto Penal Code 496 – Receiving Stolen Property Vehicle Code 10802 – Tampering with VIN Vehicle Code 10803 – Possession of Vehicle with Tampered VIN Vehicle Code 4463 – Fraudulent Registration of Vehicle
Fighting VC 10801 Operating a Chop Shop Charges
If you have been charged with owning or operating a chop shop that violated California Vehicle Code 10801, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a range of strategies in an effort to obtain the best possible outcome on the case. Common defenses include:
Lack of knowledge
Recall the elements of the crime above that state the prosecutor has to be able to prove you had knowledge of the chop shop operation. In other words, if you didn't know about the illegal activity, then you can't be convicted. On a similar note, if you didn't know vehicles or parts were stolen, you should also be able to avoid a conviction. We might be able to make a reasonable argument that you lacked the knowledge of the knowledge of the criminal activity.
Lack of intent
The prosecutor has to has to prove that you intended to alter, destroy or steal vehicles or their parts. We might be able to argue you didn't intent to participate the illegal activity. If successful at creating reasonable doubt, it could be an effective tool for negotiating for a lesser charge or even case dismissal.
You Didn't Own or Operate the Chop Shop
We might be able to argue it was the prior owner that was operating a chop shop by altering, destroying, or storing stolen vehicles or parts. However, you are the new owner and no illegal activity has occurred since you took over the shop and didn't know about the prior activity.
If you or a family member has been accused of owning or operating a chop shop that was in violation of California Vehicle Code 10801, call our Los Angeles criminal attorneys to review the details and options moving forward.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm with a team of highly experienced lawyers that have a record of success. Our LA office is located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our San Fernando Valley office is located at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact us for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.