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VC 20: Provide False Information or False Statement to CHP Officer or DMV Employee: Criminal Defense Attorneys Explain Vehicle Code 20, Law, Penalties & Defense

According to California Vehicle Code section 20, It is illegal ‘to use a false or fictitious name, or to knowingly make any false statement, or knowingly conceal any material fact in any document filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) [VC 20 Abbrev.].

For example, a vehicle driver who lies to a CHP officer about the true identity of the driver’s passenger is in violation of VC 20. The same is true when a person gives a false address to a DMV employee.

Material Fact Required: Per VC 20, only a material fact that is concealed can lead to a criminal charge. In other words, if the defendant’s statement to a CHP officer is knowingly false, but the false statement concerns a fact that makes no objective difference in the CHP officer’s investigation, then VC 20 is not violated.

For example, David is pulled over by a CHP officer for speeding. When the CHP officer questions David as to his speed, David tells the CHP officer that he (David) is married to a CHP officer. This fact is not true, and David knows it is not true, but David tells this to the CHP officer in hopes that the CHP officer will grant leniency to David. Result: David’s false statement is likely a non-material fact that will not lead to a criminal charge of VC 20.

Right to Remain Silent: A driver is generally allowed to remain silent in the face of questioning by a CHP officer, but if the driver does make a statement, that statement must not be materially false (VC 20 Extrapolated).

Note: Keep in mind that a driver who does not answer questions during a non-custodial vehicle stop may nevertheless be arrested if the CHP officer reasonably believes the driver has committed a misdemeanor of felony crime, such as a violation of driving under the influence (DUI), reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, evading police, etc.

Delaying Officer’s Investigation: When a false statement is made to a CHP officer, and this false statement causes a delay in the CHP officer’s investigation, then the driver may be charged with both VC 20 [False Statement to CHP Officer], and PC 148(a) [Delaying Officer’s Investigation].

Example: Nancy is a passenger in Mike’s car. Mike is pulled over by CHP for speeding. During the CHP officer’s investigation, the officer asks Nancy for her identification. Nancy falsely tells the officer that she (Nancy) does not have her driver’s license with her because Nancy has warrants for her arrest. Result: Nancy may be charged with both VC 20 [False Statement to CHP Officer], and PC 148(a) [Delaying an Officer’s Investigation].

False Statement to DMV: A false statement to a DMV officer usually involves a false name, false birthdate, or false evidence of registration. Any of these false statements, or omissions, would be considered “material” according to vehicle code 20.

In fact, lying on a DMV form may also lead to perjury charges, false claim of vehicle theft, insurance fraud, forgery of license, fraudulent vehicle registration (VC 4463), and more, depending on the nature of the false statement.

VC 20 Penalties

Jail Sentence: VC 20 is classified as a misdemeanor. A violation of vehicle code 20 can lead to a jail sentence of up to six months and up to a $1,000 fine. The amount of jail time imposed after a conviction for vehicle code 20 depends on the circumstances and facts of the case, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the harm cause (if any) by the defendant’s false statement, the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the district attorney and the defendant, and more.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to a jail sentence. A probation sentence is allowed after a conviction for making a false statement to a CHP officer or DMV employee. However, a probation sentence is not guaranteed.

Note: Whether a probation sentence is granted after a conviction for VC 20 usually depends on several factors, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the harm caused (if any) by the defendant’s false statement, the remorse shown by the defendant, the defendant’s early acceptance or responsibility (early confession), the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, and more.

Misdemeanor Probation: When probation is granted after a conviction for VC 20, the probation is monitored by the court, not a probation officer. The terms, or conditions of misdemeanor probation, usually include the condition that the defendant remain free from future criminal convictions (during the period of probation), and the payment of fines.

In some VC 20 cases where misdemeanor probation is granted, a short jail term may be imposed; however, a jail sentence that is imposed as a “condition” of probation, may usually be served alternatively on work release or house arrest.

Note: If the defendant does not comply with the terms or condition of probation after a VC 20 conviction, he or she may be charged with a violation of probation. This criminal charge is in addition to the original VC 20 charge.

Judicial Diversion: Judicial diversion is allowed in VC 20 cases. A judicial diversion is similar to a probation sentence, except that the defendant does not have to plead guilty or “no contest” to the VC 20 charge, and the successful completion of judicial diversion leads to no criminal conviction.

Judicial diversion is particularly useful for non-US citizens and licensed professionals who otherwise would suffer collateral consequences if they plead guilty or “no contest” to a VC 20 criminal charge. For more information, see Judicial Diversion.

CIMT: Provided false information to a CHP officer or a DMV employee is classified as a “crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT).

A crime involving moral turpitude is any crime that involves deceit or is otherwise considered morally wrong. Crimes involving moral turpitude, including vehicle code 20 crimes, will lead to direct consequences with immigration for non-US citizens, licensed professionals (i.e., doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, nurses, etc.), and military service personnel. For more information, see Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude.

Remember, lying on a DMV form may lead to both VC 20 charges and more serious charges, such as felony perjury. The penalties and defenses for perjury are found at PC 118.

Additional Penalties: In addition to a possible jail sentence, or probation sentence, a conviction for VC 20 can lead direct and indirect penalties, including court fines and fees, criminal protective orders if there is a named victim in the case, restitution if any victim suffers economic loss, civil lawsuits, and more.

VC 20 Defense

Common defenses related to vehicle 20 crimes include statute of limitations violations (one year statute of limitations for VC 20), non-materially false statement reported to the CHP officer, the statement to the CHP officer was not false, the statement to the CHP officer was not knowingly false (Mistake of Fact Defense), Miranda violations, and more.

Example: Mark is pulled over for speeding by a California Highway Patrol officer. Mark tells the officer that the speedometer on his car is not working and that is why he is travelling faster than the posted speed limit. Mark’s speedometer is not broken, but Mark truly believed that it was broken. Result: Mark’s materially false statement to the CHP officer is not knowingly false; therefore, Mark is not guilty of VC 20.

VC 20 Post-Conviction Options: After a conviction for making a false statement to a CHP officer, or DMV employee, several post-conviction options might be available to the defendant depending on the circumstances, including appealing the criminal conviction, modifying the probationary period (PC 1203.3), expunge the criminal conviction (PC 1203.4), withdraw the guilty or “no contest” plea (PC 1018), and more.

If you or a loved one is charged with making a materially false statement to a California Highway Patrol officer (CHP), or a California DMV employee (VC 20), contact our California criminal defense attorneys today for a complimentary consultation.

Our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys, including award winning trial attorneys, have successfully handled hundreds of misdemeanors and felony vehicle code violations in the Inland Empire, including the cities and courts of Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Rialto, Redlands, Yucaipa, Victorville, Barstow, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ontario, Upland, and more. Call today!


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VC 20: Provide False Information to CHP or DMV


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