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Operating a Chop Shop

Owning or Operating a Chop Shop in California – Vehicle Code 10801

In California and across the United States, there is a massive underground market for just about all types of automobile parts as many are interchangeable with other vehicles stolen individual parts are typically difficult to identify.

This lucrative market means there is no shortage of people who steal cars to completely strip them down and then sell the parts in individually. This form of an illegal theft crime is called “operating a chop shop.”

California Vehicle Code 10801 is the statute used for prosecution of this type of theft and it makes it crime to knowingly own or operate a chop shop. If convicted, you could be facing some harsh legal consequences.

California Vehicle Code 250 PC defines a “chop shop” as any place where any vehicle or part was obtained by theft, fraud, or conspiracy is altered, disassembled, or stored to alter, disguise, counterfeit, forge, or to remove the identity.

This would of course include the crucial vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car or car part with intent to misrepresent the identity, prevent identification, or dispose of or sell the car or car part.

An example that can often be found in Los Angeles includes a scenario when a person operates a garage in order for car thieves to bring them stolen vehicles. This person actually owns the garage and after the vehicles are received, they will strip them down and sell individual parts to other people. In this example, they could be facing charges under Vehicle Code 10801, operating a chop shop.

To give readers more useful information about owning and operating a chop shop laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

Vehicle Code 10801- Operating a Chop Shop Definition

California Vehicle Code 10801 provides a definition of the crime of owning or operating a chop shop:

Any person who knowingly and intentionally owns or operates a chop shop is guilty of a public offense, and if they are convicted, shall be punished by imprisonment of two, three, or four years, a fine up to $50,000, or both, or up to one year in county jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.

The term “knowingly” operating a chop shop simply means that you were aware that you were participating in a chop shop, the car parts were illegally obtained, and you knew the car parts were obtained to disguise their identity or illegally sell them.

The term “operating” a chop shop doesn't mean if you must actually own chop shop to be found guilty of Vehicle Code 10801. This means that if you actively participate in the illegal chop shop operation, it would be sufficient for a conviction, even in a situation where it was not planned.

Prosecution of a Vehicle Code 10801 Case

In order for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction for owning or operating a chop shop under California Vehicle Code 10801, they must be able to prove the “elements of the crime” that are listed under CALCRIM 1752 Jury instructions, that you:

  • Knowingly and intentionally operated a chop shop
  • Knew the vehicle or vehicle parts were obtained by theft or fraud
  • Knew the vehicle or vehicle parts were obtained in order to
  • Sell or dispose the vehicle or their parts, or
  • Alter, disguise, or remove with intent to misrepresent or prevent identification

In many cases, actually proving you knew is difficult for a prosecutor. They frequently rely on circumstantial evidence and a jury can still convict you if the totality of circumstances are sufficient to establish your guilt.

Vehicle Code 10801 Operating a Chop Shop Penalties

Vehicle Code 10801 operating a chop shop in a California is a  “wobbler” crime, which means the case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. A prosecutor will usually base their decision on how many vehicles were involved, level of damages, size of the chop shop operation, and prior criminal history.

If you are convicted of Vehicle Code 10801 as a misdemeanor case, the penalties include up to one year in county jail, a $1,000 fine, and summary probation.

If you are convicted of a felony case, the penalties include up to four years in a county jail, a $50,000 fine, and formal probation.

If you are sentenced to probation, there are certain terms and conditions you must follow. These terms will include regular meetings with a probation officer, community service hours, and victim restitution. If you are found in violation of the terms of your probation, you could be facing jail time.

Related California Offenses for VC 10801

Penal Code 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto
Penal Code 496 – Receiving Stolen Property
Penal Code 459 – Auto Burglary
Vehicle Code 10802 – Tampering with VIN
Vehicle Code 10803 – Possession of Vehicle with Tampered VIN

VC 10801 Operating a Chop Shop Defenses

If you are accused of Vehicle Code 10801 owning or operating a chop shop, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use a variety of strategies to fight the charges. We need to closely examine all the details to decide the best approach. Some of the common defenses include:

Lack of knowledge of Chop Shop

If you go back to the elements of the crime above, recall that the prosecutor must prove you knew about the chop shop operation.  This means if it can be proven you were not aware of the unlawful operations, you can't be guilty. Also, if you were not aware the vehicles or their parts were stolen, you can't be guilty of Vehicle Code 10801. Perhaps we could argue you lacked the knowledge necessary to prove criminal activity.

Lack of intent

Recall from above that the prosecutor also must prove you had the intent to alter, destroy or steal vehicles or vehicle parts. Perhaps we could make an argument you had no intent to participate in the chop shop operation. If we can create some reasonable doubt, then you might be able to avoid a conviction or persuade the prosecutor to offer lesser charges or even drop the case.

If you have been charged with owning or operating a chop shop in violation of California Vehicle Code 10801, call our Los Angeles criminal lawyers to examine the details and options.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm with a team of highly experienced lawyers who have a record of success. We are located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We have another office located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Contact our firm for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.

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