In California, it is illegal to tamper with another person’s vehicle, whether you mess with the car as a whole or just a part of the vehicle or the contents. The good news is that in many cases, this is a reduced charge used in some vehicle burglary cases and carries a much lighter sentence. If you have been accused of vehicle tampering, a theft crimes lawyer can help you fight the charges.
What is Tampering With a Vehicle?
Vehicle tampering is covered in section 10852 of the California penal code section dealing with vehicles. It involves willingly interfering with or damaging a vehicle as a whole or parts of the vehicle, including removing parts from the car. Naturally, these activities are only crimes when performed without the consent of the owner -or else every time a mechanic worked on someone’s car they could be charged with violating this part of the vehicle code.
Similarly, if someone does something on accident, this is not considered a criminal act although if you accidentally cause damage to someone’s vehicle, you can still be legally liable for the cost of repairs. That being said, while the the act must be intentional, it does not need to be malicious. In other words, if you were drunk and broke into someone’s car to find a place to sleep, you have still invaded the vehicle owner’s privacy and can be considered guilty.
Vehicle tampering is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines, though those convicted of this crime often are sentenced to probation instead.
Relation to Auto Burglary
This charge is frequently brought up against those who entered a car illegally, but did not meet the legal requirements of auto burglary (California Penal Code 459). That’s because car burglary charges only apply when someone breaks into a car with the intention to take something illegally or to commit another felony. Unlike home burglary charges, vehicle burglary law also only applies if the car was locked. This is why car tampering charges are often filed when someone enters an unlocked car, or doesn’t take something or commit a felony.
In some cases, a criminal attorney can negotiate to have vehicle burglary charges reduced to tampering with a vehicle, which has a dramatically lower penalty.
Defenses to this Charge
There are many defenses available for those who are facing this crime. These include consent on behalf of the vehicle owner, lack of evidence, false accusations or police violating your constitutional rights during the arrest or investigation of the crime such as a lack of probable cause for your arrest or a violation of search and seizure laws.
As always, it’s important to refuse to speak with the police without an attorney present or you may say something that could hurt your case. If you have been accused of vehicle tampering in San Diego County, please call Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 or (858) 468-3024 to schedule a free consultation at his law firm locations in Vista or Carmel Valley.
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