In the State of California, you are required by law to be truthful in all interactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Therefore, providing false or misleading information is a crime under California Vehicle Code 20 VC.
Dealing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can be frustrating. You need to ensure you are accurate in the paperwork you complete for a driver's license or vehicle registration.
VC 20 says, “It is unlawful to use a false or fictitious name or to knowingly make any false statement or knowingly conceal any material fact in any document filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of the California Highway Patrol.”
There could be many reasons for attempting to use a false name on a DMV or CHP document. Perhaps the false statements were intentional to get a license or vehicle registration. Maybe they made false statements because they didn't have valid identification or a warrant for their arrest.
Perhaps they mistakenly make a false statement on a document because it needs to be clarified in which box information should be entered. Further, some questions are confusing if they are unfamiliar with the specific form, such as title and licensing forms.
A spelling error or difficult-to-read handwriting may have the wrong information on a license or registration.
Most DMV and CHP forms require a signature that says: “I certify under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct.”
Violating this law is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
Understanding Vehicle Code Section 20
California Vehicle Code Section 20 is a criminal statute that makes it illegal to provide false information to the DMV or the CHP knowingly.
The false information may be orally given (e.g., to a CHP officer) or written (e.g., in a DMV report or application). This includes any of the following actions:
- Using a fake/fictitious name, such as not giving your name;
- Making a false statement; or
- Knowingly concealing a material fact, such as a fact that might affect the outcome.
To be convicted under VC 20, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- You provided a written statement or information to the DMV or CHP;
- The information or statement was false or misleading;
- You were aware that the information or statement was false or misleading; and
- You provided this misinformation or withheld material information with the intent to deceive.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Gina is pulled over by a CHP officer for speeding. This would be her third ticket in a month. Not wanting the points on her license and not wanting her insurance rates to go up, she hands the officer a fake ID she uses to get into bars and says her registration is not in the car. In addition to other infractions and offenses, she may be charged under VC 20 for making false statements to the officer.
EXAMPLE 2: George's driver's license has been suspended, so he goes to the DMV with a fake identity and SSN to try and get another one. George can be charged under VC 20.
EXAMPLE 3: Fred is in a car accident on a California highway. He knows the accident is his fault because he changed lanes without putting on his turn signal. However, when the CHP officer fills out the accident report, Fred lies and says he put on the signal. As a result, Fred can be charged under VC 20.
What Are the Related Offenses?
Several other vehicle laws and crimes similar to or related to VC 20 may be charged in tandem with this crime if the circumstances warrant. These include, but are not limited to:
- Vehicle Code 31 VC - false information to a police officer;
- Penal Code 148.9 PC - providing false identification to a police officer;
- Penal Code 148.5 PC - making a false report of a crime;
- Vehicle Code 10501 VC - false report of auto theft;
- Vehicle Code 14601 VC - driving on a suspended license;
- Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC - driving without a valid license;
- Vehicle Code 16028 VC - driving without proof of insurance;
- Vehicle Code 4463 VC - fraudulent vehicle registration;
- Penal Code 118 PC - perjury.
What Are the Penalties for VC 20?
A conviction under California Vehicle Code Section 20 is considered a misdemeanor offense. The potential penalties for this offense include the following:
- Up to six months in county jail; and
- A fine of up to $1,000.
Sometimes, a judge may grant probation instead of a jail sentence. If probation is granted, the defendant may be required to complete community service, attend counseling, or meet other conditions.
What Are the Defenses for VC 20?
Several defense strategies may effectively contest a charge under Vehicle Code Section 20, discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge or intent. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must show that you knowingly made a false statement. Your attorney may contend that you genuinely believed the information was accurate when you provided it and that you had no intent to deceive.
Perhaps we can argue that the misleading or concealed information was not material. If the information withheld or falsely given would not have changed the outcome, you may be able to get the charges dismissed. For example, perhaps you "fudged" your weight on a license application.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a coerced statement. The defense may argue that you provided false information due to threats or intimidation by law enforcement.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no probable cause. The CHP can only pull you over and detain you if they have probable cause to believe you broke the law. If your attorney can show they had no probable cause, then even if you provided misleading information, the case must be dismissed.
You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.