Tampering with VINs Appeal Clarifies That “Singular” and “Plural” Are Interchangeable in Lawmaking


Clarification on the elements of 10802 V.C., knowingly tampering with VIN numbers to misrepresent or prevent identification of motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts for the purpose of sale, transfer, import or export. 


A vehicle owner parked his white 2010 Ford pickup outside his house in Salinas. He left the keys in the truck while he unloaded items into his home. When he returned a few minutes later, his truck was gone. Through the Monterey County grapevine, the vehicle owner learned where his truck was. He went to this address and observed his truck parked outside the defendant’s residence next to a white 2013 Ford pickup. The vehicle had been missing approximately 24 hours. He called CHP. 

CHP surveilled the defendant’s residence. The 2013 Ford pickup appeared broken down. There was a partial tarp covering the front end, the engine appeared in a dismantled state, and a large toolbox was on the ground. Officers observed the defendant moving items from the 2013 truck to the 2010 truck. They obtained and served a search warrant. 

The investigation revealed that both license plates had been removed from the 2010 pickup and an examination revealed an “abnormal” VIN plate. The VIN plate belonging to the 2013 truck had been installed with a black screw to the left of where a standard rivet would be, over the 2010 pickup VIN. Officers found inside the vehicle the defendant’s cell phone and items of personal property.  

The defendant was convicted of 496d(a) P.C., receiving a stolen vehicle and 10802 V.C., tampering with a VIN number (aka “VIN cloning.”) He had a prior strike and was sentenced to 4 years in CDC&R. 

The defendant appealed in two areas over the wording of 10802 V.C. First, there was only one vehicle involved here and he tampered with only one VIN number. The statute reads in the plural – motor vehicles, VINs, vehicle parts. Second, he did not intend to sell or transfer the vehicle to another. He intended it for his own use!