California Vehicle Code Section 10801 – Operating a Chop Shop
When it comes to these chop shop cases in Los Angeles, I've handled a lot of them over the course of the last twenty-five years – this basically has to do with somebody running a location – that location could be an autobody shop, a building where cars are being moved in and out, it could be a junk yard, it could be a garage, it could be a number of different things – but basically, what's happening is people are coming with stolen cars to that location.
Those cars are being disassembled and then the parts are either being sold off, sometimes the vehicle VIN's are being changed on the vehicle and then the vehicles are being sold. The bottom line is the authorities are on to this type of stuff because it's big business. So, when people steal a car they're going to take it to one of these chop shops to chop it up and obviously a lot of money can be made this way and the police are looking out for this type of stuff.
The police have actual special units – special task forces – both in the prosecuting agencies and in the law enforcement agencies that investigate these crimes. They are sophisticated.
They know how to do surveillance, they know how to execute search warrants – so, if you're charged with a chop shop case in Los Angeles pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 10801, obviously you're going to want to get an attorney who is familiar with these types of cases, who has handled them, who knows how to defend them and knows how to get the result that you're going to want because if there's a lot of money involved then the prosecutors and the judge are going to be looking to punish you severely.
Legal Defenses for Operating a Chop Shop
One defense – depending on who you are in relation to the case – is whether you own the business where the supposed chop shop is being done, whether you're working in the business, whether you're actually bringing a vehicle there – they're going to probably try to claim that you are part of some ring that's involved with chopping up vehicles and selling off the parts.
But the defense that I see in these cases is knowledge. If you don't know that these vehicles that are coming in and out are stolen and they don't have evidence and you've got a plausible story about why you're involved with the entity that's being raided by the police, then you might have a defense in the case.
Then obviously, something that you have to do is sit down with a seasoned criminal defense attorney that's done these cases and really flush out what your defense would be. You want to be honest with the attorney. Don't put a spin on things. Give him the details, and also, you're going to want to look at the evidence the prosecutors have in relation to the case to see if they really have a good case against you.
Other potential defenses surround the facts of the case. Obviously, if the facts are positive to you then you have a good argument and that's something you would discuss with your attorney. Sometimes the police illegally raid locations without search warrants or they get a search warrant and he search warrant is no good because it's not based in probable cause.
Under those circumstances, anything they find on the location would be suppressed – including their observations, statements, any parts they see, any vehicles they see – so this would be a great defense if they illegally come into the location and start grabbing things and arresting people. I have that happen all the time and then we file the motion and obviously, we try to win the case.
Developing an Effective Legal Strategy
Your best strategy is to get a list of questions together to get all your defenses together related to your version of events and then sit down with an attorney. Talk to him about it and really get down to the nitty-gritty about what you can do to help yourself.
Be honest with the attorney and give him all the details. When I meet with people I'm going to try to tell them whether they have a good defense or not or whether they should try to do damage control and try to work out some sort of a resolution with the prosecutors in the case. Get character letters and different things that show the judge that you're a good person.
One big thing that I like to do is get your version of events across to the prosecutor and judge because a lot of times I see one-sided investigations that really don't take into account your story, what's going on with you. They just look at it from one side and a lot of times law enforcement don't do a good thorough job and don't take into account all the facts, so prosecutors are looking at you one way when they really shouldn't if they had all the details related to your case.