Texas Tampering with Identification Numbers – Penal Code 31.11

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 What Is Tampering With Identification Numbers in Texas?

In Texas, tampering with identification numbers occurs when an individual removes or alters a serial number of any tangible personal property and attempts to sell it or offers it for sale. One common example is the vehicle identification number (VIN) on a vehicle.

What Is the Current Texas Law on Tampering With Identification Numbers?

Pursuant to Texas Penal Code 31.11:

  • (a) A person commits an offense if the person:
    • (1) knowingly or intentionally removes, alters, or obliterates the serial number or other permanent identification marking on tangible personal property; or
    • (2) possesses, sells, or offers for sale tangible personal property and:
      • (A) the actor knows that the serial number or other permanent identification marking has been removed, altered, or obliterated; or
      • (B) a reasonable person in the position of the actor would have known that the serial number or other permanent identification marking has been removed, altered, or obliterated.

What Does Tampering With Identification Numbers Entail?

As outlined above, an individual can be convicted of tampering with identification numbers if the prosecution can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant knowingly or intentionally made a change to the serial number or permanent identification marking on another individual’s personal property.

An individual may also be charged with this offense if they have in their possession or try to sell personal property when they know the identification number or marking has been altered or tampered with or a reasonable person would have known that it was altered or tampered with.

Why Is Tampering With an Identification Number a Crime?

Tampering with an identification number is a criminal offense because it is classified as a type of criminal mischief. Criminal mischief refers to intentionally damaging another individual’s property by doing any of the following:

  • Defacing;
  • Damaging;
  • Destroying;
  • Obliterating;
  • Altering.

What Is Criminal Mischief?

Criminal mischief occurs in Texas when an individual intentionally damages or destroys the property of another. When an individual intentionally damages property or tampers with the property of another that results in substantial inconvenience or financial loss, it is categorized as criminal mischief.

Criminal Mischief: How Does It Happen?

An act of criminal mischief occurs when an individual intentionally damages the tangible property of another individual by:

  • Damaging it;
  • Vandalizing it;
  • Altering it;
  • Dismantling it.

Do Criminal Tamperings Count as Mischief?

Yes, criminal tampering is a type of criminal interference with property, including tampering with identification numbers. Individuals who intentionally tamper with another’s property are criminal tampering when they do any of the following to the property:

  • Meddle;
  • Impaire;
  • Interrupt;
  • Alter it.

Criminal Mischief: What Are the Penalties?

In Texas, criminal mischief is classified as a misdemeanor. If the damage caused to the property is less than $100, it is a Class C misdemeanor. This is punishable by a criminal fine of up to $500. If the damage caused to the property is valued at between $100 and $750, it is a Class B misdemeanor.

A Class B misdemeanor in Texas is punishable by 180 days in jail as well as criminal fines of up to $2,000. If the damage is valued between $750 and $2,500, it is a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to one year in jail and criminal fines of up to $4,000. As the value of the damage increases, so does the severity of the charge and the potential penalties.

Beyond these amounts, the charges become felony charges in Texas.

If Convicted of Criminal Mischief, Will I Have to Pay Restitution?

If an individual is convicted of criminal mischief, they will likely be required to pay restitution as part of their sentence. With restitution, the defendant makes payments to compensate the victim for the losses that they sustained, such as damaged or destroyed property.

What if the Owner Consented to My Damaging Their Property?

A defendant may be able to use the consent defense if they can show the plaintiff consented or gave permission to the defendant to do what they were accused of. In other words, the property owner may have given the defendant permission to damage their property. If so, the defendant could not be found guilty of criminal mischief.

What Are the Penalties for Tampering With Texas Identification Numbers?

In Texas, tampering with identification numbers is a class A misdemeanor. If an individual is convicted, they face up to one year in jail and criminal fines of up to $4,000.

What Is a Class A Misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are typically considered less serious than criminal offenses that are classified as felonies. A misdemeanor is typically punishable by less than one year in jail and criminal fines.

Texas categorizes misdemeanors into three categories, including:

  • Class A misdemeanors: These are punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000;
    • These are the most serious misdemeanors;
  • Class B misdemeanors: These are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000; and
  • Class C misdemeanors: These do not include jail time but are punishable by fines of up to $500.

Felony offenses carry longer sentences in prisons and higher criminal fines.

How Can a Texas Lawyer Help?

A local Texas attorney can help an individual understand the charges against them as well as advise them regarding any plea bargains that the prosecution may offer them.

Prior to a trial, an individual’s lawyer can negotiate on their behalf to convince the prosecution to reduce the charges against them. Or, in some cases, even have the charges dropped completely. If a lawyer can negotiate lesser charges, it will result in a lesser punishment for the defendant.

If an individual’s case does proceed to trial, their lawyer will represent them in court and request a fair sentence on their behalf if they are found guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor. Although misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, they can still carry significant penalties and remain on an individual’s criminal record for the rest of their lives.

This is why it is important to have a Texas lawyer’s representation. In addition, if an individual is a first-time, non-violent offender, they may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program.

Once the individual successfully completes this program, they will be able to apply for the conviction to be expunged immediately. An individual may not be aware of the programs available in their area without consulting with a Texas attorney.

Is There Any Affirmative Defense to Tampering With an Identification Number?

Yes, there may be affirmative defenses available to tampering with an identification number of an individual who can show that they:

  • Acted with the owner’s consent;
  • Were a police officer performing official duties;
  • Were a Texas Department of Transportation or Texas Department of Motor Vehicles employee who acted in the performance of their official duties and in compliance with the rules of the Department.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about Fighting My Tampering With Identification Numbers Charge?

If you are facing a tampering with identification numbers charge in Texas, it is essential to consult with a Texas criminal lawyer. As noted above, this is a Class A misdemeanor that can carry severe consequences and remain on your criminal record indefinitely.

Having a lawyer is the best chance of obtaining a lesser charge or being eligible for a pre-trial diversion program. Your lawyer will represent you throughout the process, during each court appearance, and ensure your rights are protected.

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