While the definition of “chop shops” may vary between the states, it is generally any place that is used to change a vehicle or parts of a vehicle that has been used in a crime. The purpose of doing this would be to prevent identification of a vehicle. For example, a chop shop might change the color of a stolen car to prevent it from being discovered by the police.
Chops shops can sometimes be located in an actual automobile shop, but may also be found in other locations, such as a home garage. If you operate a chop shop, you may face serious penalties and should contact an attorney to inform you about your defenses to the crime.
What are the Penalties for Operating a Chop Shop?
Chop shop laws and the penalties for operating a chop shop vary from state to state. Depending on the state and the severity of the crime, it may be looked at as either a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, in California chop shop crimes are considered "wobbler" offenses, which means that you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Generally, penalties for operating a chop shop will include paying a fine and/or jail time. The severity of your penalties may depend on various factors, including the following:
- Your actual intent and purpose for operating a chop shop;
- The value of property involved; and
- Whether you have a criminal record, especially if your record includes previous chop shop offenses.
Are There Any Defenses to Chop Shop Crimes?
Generally, to be found guilty of operating a chop shop the following factors must occur:
- You must knowingly and intentionally operate the chop shop (not just own it);
- The vehicle has to be stolen or linked to criminal activity; and
- You must have obtained the car for the purpose of selling/disposing of the vehicle, or altering it so that it can’t be identified.
If any of the above factors are not present, you can use that as a defense and argue that you have not committed a crime.
Another defense to a chop shop crime is if the chop shop was discovered or identified through an illegal police search. An example of this is if the police do not have a proper warrant to search the shop.
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Should I Contact an Attorney?
Chop shop crimes are very serious and can lead to jail time. Since the laws are different between the states and can be complex, you may wish to consult a criminal defense attorney if you need assistance with any type of chop shop law or legal issue. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and representation during the court proceedings.