On Friday, August 11, a police officer shot and killed two dogs as he was investigating an alleged chop shop in Bakersfield.
When officers arrived at the scene, the suspect took off and one of two pit bulls charged an officer, who fired his weapon and killed both dogs. The other officers eventually chased down the suspect and arrested the 23-year-old. At the site of the alleged chop shop, officers discovered a stolen vehicle, a stolen vehicle engine, multiple stolen auto parts and three stolen motorcycles. The suspect was charged with possessing stolen property, possessing a stolen vehicle, operating a chop shop and resisting arrest.
While usually seen in movies and television, chop shops are very real. Operating a chop shop is covered under California Vehicle Code 10801 VC. A chop shop is defined as anyplace where someone knowingly stores, takes apart, or alters a stolen vehicle or vehicle parts for the purpose of selling it, disposing of it, or altering its identity. In order to be charged with violating VC 10801, a person must knowingly do one or more of the things listed above. For example, if someone were to be asked by a friend to store some car parts in their garage and those parts turned out to be stolen, the person storing them would probably not be charged with operating a chop shop.
An individual charged with operating a chop shop does not have to own the shop itself in order to be charged, nor do they have to be in a supervisory position. Additionally, the chop shop itself doesn’t have to be a continuing operation. It’s enough that a person is actively involved in the operation of the chop shop and that the shop is used at least once for one or more of the purposes listed above.
The penalties for operating a chop shop vary depending on the circumstances of the case. California Vehicle Code 1081 VC is known as a “wobbler,” which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Usually, the severity of the charge will be determined by factors such as how many cars or car parts the chop shop was currently working on, the size and scope of the operation, the total monetary value of the items discovered, and the operators’ criminal history. When charged as a misdemeanor, VC 1081 carries the possible penalties of up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. For felony convictions, the penalties include up to four years in county jail and/or a fine of up to $50,000.
Interestingly, California Vehicle Code 2805 VC allows police officers to inspect auto shops and automobiles without a search warrant under certain circumstances. Those circumstances are 1) to locate a stolen vehicle and 2) the search takes place during a time when business operations of that shop will not be hindered by the search. The searches allowed under VC 2805 are only to be conducted on premises where vehicles are worked on as a business, such as an auto shop or garage. Private property is not covered by the law.