California Vehicle Code 4463 VC is the statute that makes it a crime to engage in fraud or forgery regarding vehicle registration certificates, tags or stickers, license plates, or a smog test certificate. Prosecutors can charge this crime as a misdemeanor or a felony, called a “wobbler.”
The state of California considers all vehicle registration information as official documentation. For that reason, falsifying or forging any of these items is illegal and falls under the category of auto registration fraud.
Many people consider violating this law a minor offense, but forging or falsifying vehicle registration information is a serious crime in California and could lead to felony charges and jail time.
Vehicle Code Section 4463 VC covers a broad range of unlawful conduct, such as altering or counterfeiting registration cards and registration stickers. It's also a crime to display or possess fraudulent or forged registration cards, registration stickers, or passing as true forged cards or stickers.
Other illegal actions under VC include registering your vehicle with the wrong year, giving a false car value when registering a car, registering your car in another state while living in California to pay less fees and taxes, and using someone else's valid registration stickers or papers.
If convicted of this crime, you could serve up to 3 years in prison and wind up with a felony on your criminal record. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will cover this topic further below.
What Constitutes Auto Registration Fraud in California?
As noted above, according to 4463 VC, it is criminal auto registration fraud to do any of the following:
- Create or forge false/counterfeit vehicle registration cards or stickers, or alter existing registration information with false information;
- Possess forged, altered, or false registration cards/stickers with intent to defraud;
- Display, causing or permitting to be displayed, or possession of a blank, incomplete, suspended, revoked, altered, forged, counterfeit, or false vehicle registration card, license plate, registration sticker or smog certificate, with the intent to defraud;
- Attempt to pass off any forged or false registration cards or stickers as authentic.
The same applies to other vehicle registration information, including smog certificates, license plates, temporary plates, certificates of ownership, etc. Falsifying or displaying any of these fraudulently can also result in criminal charges under 4463 VC. Fraud is generally described as a deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain.
What Are Some Examples?
Committing auto registration fraud in California can take many forms. Some examples include:
- Using another person's smog certificate to pass a mandatory smog test for your vehicle;
- Swapping out someone else's license plate with your own to use their registration stickers and avoid paying the fees associated with yours;
- Registering your vehicle in another state to avoid paying California's fees (considered fraud if you're a resident of California):
- Creating and selling forged registration or smog certificates:
- Deliberately stating the wrong model year or purchase price of your vehicle to save on registration fees.
What are the Penalties for Vehicle Code 4463?
In California, auto registration fraud is a "wobbler" offense, which means it may be charged either as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Prosecutors will weigh several factors in deciding which to charge you with, including your prior criminal history, the circumstances surrounding the case, including other alleged criminal violations, and whether they believe they have enough evidence to procure a conviction for one versus the other.
If you're convicted of a misdemeanor, you could be facing up to $1000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail. If convicted for a felony, the fines increase up to $10,000, and you could be sentenced to 16 months, two years, or three years in jail.
Judges also have some latitude for leniency in these cases, and they may issue sentences of probation instead of jail time or with reduced jail time.
Loss of Your Driver's License
Whether you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor for auto registration fraud, the possibility also exists that you could lose your driver's license if the DMV believes you submitted fraudulent information in any application to them. They may either suspend or revoke your existing license or refuse to renew your license when it expires.
What are the Related Crimes?
The following crimes are often charged in tandem with, or instead of, Vehicle Code 4463 VC vehicle registration fraud:
- Forging or Counterfeiting a Driver's License (Penal Code 470a PC): Forging a driver's license or other government ID is a separate crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison;
- Giving False Information to the DMV (Vehicle Code 20 VC): If your fraudulent registration also involves giving a fictitious name or other false information to the DMV, you could be charged with this crime in addition to vehicle registration fraud;
- Giving False Information to a Peace Officer (Vehicle Code 31 VC): VC 31 includes oral and written falsehoods. If you are pulled over for a traffic stop, and the officer checks your fake registration, you could be charged with this crime in addition to VC 4463;
- Forging or Counterfeiting a Public Seal (Penal Code 472 PC): If your fake registration contains a counterfeit of the California seal, for example, this could be charged as a separate or additional crime.
What are the Defenses for Auto Registration Fraud?
Not everything is always as it appears, and it is possible to possess fraudulent registration unknowingly or be unlawfully snared into criminal charges. Some common defenses for auto registration fraud charges include the below.
Lack of intent to defraud. You didn't act willfully; you were mistaken about your registration information or were unaware your information was incorrect. The prosecution must prove intent to convict you.
Unlawful search/seizure or no probable cause. If police searched you without probable cause leading to your arrest, the attorney might be able to get the case thrown out as a violation of your constitutional rights.
Insufficient evidence for a conviction. Some auto registration fraud cases are filed based on circumstantial rather than direct evidence showing a defendant's guilt. Perhaps we can show the prosecutor they don't have sufficient proof to secure a conviction.
Further, if guilt is not in doubt, we might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain. This entails a plea of guilty in exchange for a reduced charge, such as an infraction or lighter sentence.
Another potential option is a prefiling intervention to negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges before you even go into a courtroom. Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense law firm. You can reach our office for an initial consultation by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out our contact form.