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Name: People v. Killian (2024) 100 Cal.App.5th 191
Case #: H050320, H050557
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 02/20/2024
Subsequent History: Ordered published 3/5/2024
Summary

Notwithstanding the plural language stated in Vehicle Code section 10802, which criminalizes vehicle identification number (VIN) tampering, the section may be violated by tampering with a single, as opposed to multiple, VIN’s. Defendant purchased a 2012 F-150 truck to drive back to California. Soon after he arrived, the truck’s engine failed. He testified that he then got a “pretty great deal” on a 2010 F-150, which turned out to be stolen. Defendant admitted he took the VIN plate from his 2012 truck and put it over the VIN plate of the stolen 2010 truck. He testified he was trying to save money on registration. A jury convicted defendant of receiving a stolen vehicle and VIN tampering (§ 10802). He appealed. Held: Affirmed. Vehicle Code section 10802 prohibits knowingly tampering with “vehicle identification numbers,” with the intent to misrepresent or prevent identification of “motor vehicles” or “motor vehicle parts” for the purpose of sale, transfer, import, or export. Defendant argued that this language requires tampering with multiple vehicles, and there was no evidence he had any intent to misrepresent the identity or sell or transfer his broken 2012 F-150 truck. The Vehicle Code provides the general rule of construction that “[t]he singular number includes the plural, and the plural the singular.” (§ 14.) Although section 10802 consistently uses plural language to state its elements, nothing in the language itself evinces an intent to override the general rule.

Section 10802’s mental state of “for the purpose of sale [or] transfer” extends to the objective of facilitating a conveyance of the motor vehicle regardless of whether the defendant intended to act as a seller, buyer, transferor, or transferee. A violation of section 10802 requires that the VIN tampering be committed “for the purpose of sale [or] transfer.” Defendant argued that the selling or transferring of the tampered vehicle must be to another person, since a person cannot “transfer” a vehicle to himself. While the word “transfer” as used in the Civil Code indicates the passing of title from one person to another, its general meaning includes the removal of a thing from one place or person to another, the changing of its control or possession, or the conveyance of title to it. As long as the fact finder concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the VIN tampering was completed with the intent to prevent the identification of the vehicle for the purpose of facilitating a conveyance of the vehicle, the defendant can be convicted of the crime. The defendant’s precise role in the conveyance as buyer, seller, transferor, or transferee is not determinative. Here, the evidence permitted the jurors to reasonably deduce that defendant disguised the VIN on the stolen truck while harboring the goal of facilitating the conveyance of an interest in that truck from the victim and/or the seller of the stolen vehicle to himself.