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Operating a Chop Shop in California – California Vehicle Code VC 10801

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

Under the watchful eyes of the law, businesses that earn their profit through unjust means are seen as criminal activities and will be dealt as such. One of the most common forms of illegal trade is through the operation of chop shops.

California Vehicle Code 10801

California Vehicle Code 10801 is the law that criminalizes chop shop operations. The statute declares that any person who knowingly and intentionally owns or operates a chop shop is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, three, or four years, or by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

What is a Chop Shop?

A chop shop is an unlawful business where stolen motor vehicles are disassembled (hence the word “chop”) and the “chopped up” parts are sold illegally. These businesses are commonly hidden under the guise of auto garages, body shops, car mechanics, repair shops, and junk/scrap yards. Chop shops are usually linked to broader organized crimes i.e., car-theft rings. Due to the nature of chop shops, these businesses also attract trades and partnerships with professional car thefts and smugglers. There are even instances when a vehicle is jacked up from other states, if not other countries, and those vehicles are sent to chop shops in the United States.

Chop shops are legally defined as any place where the business of altering, destroying, disassembling, dismantling, reassembling, or storing any motor vehicles or parts of motor vehicles obtained through illegal means like theft.

To be guilty under California Vehicle Code VC 10801, a person must be:

  • actively involved in the operation of the chop shop meaning he/she has been a part of any, if not all, operations and
  •  knowingly and willfully participated in performing the illegal activity meaning he/she is made aware of the nature of the activity (the unlawful origin and intent to market) and yet he/she still decided to take part in it.

Penalties for Operating a Chop Shop

California Vehicle Code 10801 is considered as a wobbler offense, this means that it is on the judge or prosecutor's discretion to charge it as either felony or misdemeanor. The latter (misdemeanor) is more severe than an infraction but less than the former (felony).

  • When charged as a misdemeanor, the punishment includes:
  • Up to three hundred and sixty-five (365) days or one (1) year imprisonment in a county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).

When charged as a felony, the punishment includes:

  •  Two (2) to four (4) years imprisonment in a county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).

In some cases, a judge may also award a guilty offender with Probation. A probation is an alternative to serving time in prison. It allows a convicted felon to do his/her sentence out of the prison facility but under a probation officer's watchful supervision.

  • For misdemeanor: Summary Probation
  • For felony: Formal Probation

Legal Defenses

Cases like the operation of Chop Shops are highly nuanced; it requires detailed investigations regarding the facts of the case. If a person ever had the misfortune of being wrongfully accused of committing a criminal offense under California Vehicle Code VC 1080 it would be in the best interest of his/her party to immediately hire the aid of a professional criminal lawyer to ensure that the proceedings will go smoothly. A competent criminal defense lawyer might include the following conditions to their case:

  • The business did not meet the definition of “chop shops”
  • The operators and/or workers were not aware that they are working for a chop shop
  • The operators and/or workers did not know that the vehicles they were working on stolen vehicles or parts of stolen vehicles
  • The operators and/or workers did not know that the vehicles or parts of the vehicle were intended for sale
  • The chop shop was discovered because of unlawful search operations

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