Updated: May 17
In California, it is a crime to make a false report of a stolen vehicle (VC 10501). The false report does not have to be made to law enforcement in order for the crime to be complete. In fact, the crime of making a false report of a stolen vehicle is commonly charged in connection with a report that is made by the defendant to an insurance company or car rental agency. When the false report of a stolen vehicle is made to the police the defendant may also be charged with filing a false police report (PC 148.5) and/or perjury (PC 118)
VC 10501 Laws:
VC 10501(a): It is unlawful for any person to make or file a false or fraudulent report of theft of a vehicle… with intent to deceive (VC 10501(a) Abbr.).
VC 10501(b): If a person has been previously convicted of a violation of subdivision (a), he or she is punishable by imprisonment… for 16 months, or two or three years (in jail), or in a county jail for not to exceed one year (VC 10501(b) Abbr.).
Intent to deceive: The crime of making a false report of vehicle theft is only charged where the defendant intended to deceive another person or entity with the intent to defraud. Neither VC 10501(a), nor VC 10501(b) require that the defendant receive a benefit from her intent to deceive. For example, if the defendant makes a false report of a vehicle theft on behalf of another person than the person who made the false report may be charged with VC 10501(a), even if she receives no financial benefit for herself. On the other hand, if the defendant falsely reports that a vehicle is stolen, but that person does not intend to defraud the true owner of vehicle, then the crime of VC 10501 is not committed. For example, if the defendant falsely reported to her mom that the mom’s vehicle was stolen, but the defendant was making this false report of theft as part of a joke (no intend to defraud), then the defendant should not be guilty of VC 10501(a).
Vehicle Defined: VC 10501 is charged where the vehicle is one that is required to be registered under the law. This includes, but is not limited to, any of the following: car, truck, motorcycle, ATV, Quad, bus, sandrail, motorhome, moped, and more. Vehicles that are not covered under VC 10501 include golf cart, electric scooter, bicycle, etc. However, a false report of theft that involves non-registerable “vehicles” is still considered criminal conduct and the penalties for such is found under other criminal codes.
The crime of falsely reporting a vehicle theft may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on whether or not the defendant has a prior conviction for VC 10501(a) and other factors.
Jail for VC 10501(a): False report of vehicle theft without a prior conviction of VC 10501(a): This crime is charged as a misdemeanor. The maximum jail sentence for a criminal conviction of VC 10501(a) is six months in the county jail.
Jail for VC 10501(b): False report of a vehicle theft with a prior conviction of VC 10501(a): This crime is charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on several factors (see below). When VC 10501(b) is charged as a felony the defendant may face up to 16 month, 2 years, or 3 years in the county jail (if probation not granted); when VC 10501(b) is charged as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one year in the county jail.
Note: VC 10501(b), false report of vehicle theft with a prior conviction of VC 10501(a), is classified as a wobbler. This means that the crime may be charged either as a felony or alternatively as a misdemeanor. Whether or not the district attorney chooses to file a felony or misdemeanor charge in any wobbler case depends largely on the defendant’s criminal history, the sophistication of the crime, the loss to the victim, the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, and more. Also, the length of jail sentence (16 months, 2 years, or 3 years) also depends on many factors, including the presence of any mitigating or aggravating factors in the facts of the case.
Also, sometimes, the crime of VC 10501(b) is initially charged as a felony but the district attorney, or the judge, subsequently reduces to the criminal charge to a misdemeanor for various reason that serve the interest of justice (See Misdemeanor v. Felony).
Probation Sentence: In any VC 10501(a) or 10501(b) case the defendant may qualify for a probation sentence. A probation sentence is a period of supervision in lieu of a jail sentence; however, some probation sentences can also include a period of jail as a term of probation. As stated, probation sentences carry terms of probation, such as pay fines, serve work release, pay restitution, stay out of trouble, etc. The length of probation is usually one year in misdemeanor VC 10501 cases and three years in felony VC 10501 cases, but this length of time can be extended for various reasons.
Probation sentences for misdemeanor convictions of VC 10501 cases is usually informal, which means the court monitors the defendant’s supervision. Probation sentences for felony convictions of VC 10501(b) are classified as formal, which means the defendant is monitored by a probation officer. Felony probation terms are usually much harsher than misdemeanor probation terms. If the defendant does not comply with the conditions (terms) of probation than that probation sentence may be terminated and the defendant could face criminal charges of violation of probation.
Keep in mind that the defendant is not guaranteed a probation sentence; however, where the defendant is not charged with a criminal penalty enhancement related to the false report of vehicle theft, then a probation sentence is a common sentence. For more information, see Misdemeanor v. Felony Probation and Probation Violations.
Note: Work release is a common term of probation. Work release is a period of manual labor, such as picking up trash around jails or prisons. Work release sentences are common probation requirements for able-bodied adults convicted of falsely reporting a vehicle theft. Alternatives to work release can include house arrest, community service, and more. For more information see Work Release.
PC 1170(h) Sentence: For felony convictions of VC 10501(b) the defendant may have her jail sentence split (served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release), or suspended (not served unless the defendant violates a term of her out-of-jail sentence.
In addition, per PC 1170(h), the defendant will serve any jail sentence in a county jail as opposed to a state prison in VC 10501 cases. This is true even where the defendant is sentenced to more than a year in custody for any conviction of VC 10501(b).
Custody Credits: When the defendant is convicted of either VC 10501(a) or VC 10501(b), regardless of whether or not the VC 10501(b) conviction is for a misdemeanor or for a felony, and thereafter, the defendant is ordered to serve a jail sentence, with or without a grant of probation, then that jail sentence will be reduced by fifty percent (50%) if the defendant serves her incarceration with good behavior. This is also known as day-for-day credit. For example, if the defendant is sentence to 16 months in jail after a conviction for VC 10501(b), then the defendant could be allowed to serve half of that jail sentence out of custody on work release, and as to that out of custody work release sentence, the defendant may earn up to 50% credit off for every day she is on her good behavior. In essence, a 16 month sentence could equate to four months of actual jail.
Note: A PC 1170(h) sentence is available in false report of vehicle theft cases; however, if there is another criminal charge added to the VC 10501 charge, or if the defendant is charged with a criminal penalty enhancement that precludes PC 1170(h) sentencing, then the defendant could be ordered to serve any incarceration in a state prison and that state prison commitment might not be subject to split or suspended sentencing. For more information, see PC 1170(h) Sentencing and Criminal Penalty Enhancements.
Three Strikes Law: VC 10501 crimes are not classified as serious or violent felonies as those terms are defined under California law. As such, a false report of vehicle theft is not a strike offense covered under California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law. However, if the defendant is found guilty of VC 10501(b), and she has previously suffered a felony conviction, then that prior felony conviction could serve to increase the penalties associated with the VC 10501(b) conviction. For more information, see Serious Felonies, Violent Felonies, and Enhanced Criminal Penalties.
CIMT: The crime of falsely report a vehicle theft is considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). A crime involving moral turpitude is a crime that is considered morally wrong or one that involves deceit. A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude carries penalties collateral to the penalties associated with the conviction. These collateral penalties for criminal convictions of CIMT include, but are not limited to, the following: Immigration consequences (deportation, denial of re-entry in the US, and/or denial or naturalization), loss of professional license (revocation, denial, or suspension for doctors, lawyers, therapist, dentist, teachers, and more), impeachment of the defendant’s conduct for truthfulness in subsequent legal proceedings, and more. For more information, see Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude.
Other Penalties: In addition to the penalties listed above, if the defendant is convicted of making a false report of a vehicle theft under VC 10501, she could face any of the following: discharge or denial of entry into the armed forces (Space Force, Air Force, Navy, Army, Merchant Marines, Marines, Coast Guard), monetary fines and fees, restitution, loss of employment, loss of the right to adopt a child, loss of the right to own or possess ammunition or firearms (felony VC 10501(b)), loss of a driver’s license (if the crime involved the use of a vehicle), loss of insurance, civil lawsuits, and more.
Note: Bail amount in San Bernardino County for VC 10501(a) is $5,000 and $25,000 for felony charges of VC 10501(b). For more information on Bail and Own Recognizance Release (OR), see How to Bail out of Jail.
VC 10501 Defenses:
There are many defenses that might apply to a criminal charge of false report of vehicle theft. The most common defenses used by defenses attorneys in VC 10501 include: alibi defense, statute of limitations (three years for felony VC 10501(b); one year for VC 10501(a)), insufficient evidence (District Attorney cannot prove intent to defraud), mistake of fact (defendant truly believed the vehicle was stolen), and more. For a more complete discussion of defenses to crimes, including defenses that might apply to any VC 10501 crime, see Defenses.
Note: It is not a defense to a criminal charge of VC 10501 to show that the defendant retracted her false report of vehicle theft. The crime is complete at the moment the defendant made or filed the false report of auto theft with the intent to defraud. If the defendant withdraws her false report the criminal charges or penalties might be reduced, but the crime is not undone.
To learn more about the crime of falsely reporting a vehicle theft, or VC 10501, contact our criminal defense attorneys today. Our defense lawyers have successfully handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor criminal charges. We serve all Inland Empire cities, including Redlands, San Bernardino, Fontana, Rialto, Yucaipa, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Victorville, and more. Our criminal defense firm is open seven days a week to serve and we have Spanish Speaking attorneys to assist you. Call today!