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A “chop shop” is defined as a place where someone knowingly stores or alters a stolen vehicle or stolen vehicle parts for the sake of concealing the theft or to dispose of or resell it. Operating or owning a chop shop is a crime in the state of California, and prosecutors are at liberty to charge defendants with either a misdemeanor or a felony in such cases. How defendants are charged may be determined by the history of the defendant, the strength of the case, or aggravating or mitigating factors surrounding the situation. The size of the operation and the amount of money earned can be a critical factor in determining how a defendant is tried. If charged with a misdemeanor, defendants can be sentenced to as much as one year in county jail and a fine not to exceed $1,000. Those charged with a felony may be sentenced to up to four years in county jail and a fine of as much as $50,000.
In both misdemeanor and felony cases, the judge may assign the defendant probation. Typically this will mitigate some if not all of the prison term, but parolees are often required to pay restitution to their victims, participate in therapy and community service, and agree to searches of their property with or without a warrant.
If you’ve been charged with owning or operating a chop shop, there are a number of avenues you may be able to pursue when constructing a defense.. Prosecutors must prove that the business in question was operating as a chop shop and that the defendant was knowingly dealing in stolen parts or vehicles. A common defense is to argue that while the parts or vehicles were stolen, the defendant was ignorant to any impropriety. This might mean that, while members of the business were actively engaging in illegal repairs or modifications, the owner or operator was unaware of such activities. This might involve other employees replacing or removing parts from cars they work on for resale or actively concealing the stolen nature of vehicles that are brought in. Alternately, a defense might argue that only the clients of the shop are culpable for the crimes. In such a situation, the prosecution must bring sufficient evidence to indicate that the defendant themselves were complicit in the act of committing a crime.
Under California law, officers are allowed to conduct inspections of shops or vehicles without a warranty. They can only conduct such investigations if the property in question is operating as a business and if the inspection takes place at a time that minimizes the impact on the business owner’s livelihood. Such inspections can only be conducted for the sake of recovering lost vehicles. If your arrest happened under the pretense of a warrant-less inspection, you may be able to pursue a defense arguing that the circumstances were illegal.
The consequences to being charged with owning or operating a chop shop can be severe, but the circumstances of such a crime place a large burden of proof upon the prosecution. Our firm may be able to assist by evaluating the situation and determining the right course of action for your defense.