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California Boosts its Catalytic Converter Laws

California Boosts its Catalytic Converter Laws

As we approach the new year, it is important to take stock of the new laws that will go into effect in 2024. One of the most important pieces of recent legislation involves the theft of catalytic converters in California – an issue that has plagued motorists across the state for years. This new piece of legislation will create even tougher penalties for anyone caught stealing catalytic converters. Considering the fact that these penalties are already quite high, auto thieves could potentially face long periods behind bars for continuing these crimes into 2024. What exactly are these new laws, and how might they affect you in the future?

How Will California’s Catalytic Converter Laws Change in the Future?

On November 8th, Fox News reminded newsreaders that anyone stealing catalytic converters in 2024 will likely face much more serious consequences. This is due to Assembly Bill 641, which is set to take effect on January 1, 2023. The bill is specifically geared toward fighting catalytic converter theft, which has become a major point of concern for California residents across the state. According to this new bill, law enforcement will have the option to charge these thieves with “Illegal Automobile Dismantling” – a misdemeanor that results in fines of between $250 and $1,000. 

However, this law has serious limitations, and there are a number of ways in which defendants can avoid such fines. First of all, the law only applies to those caught with nine or more converters in their possession. If one is caught with just eight converters, no fines apply. In addition, legitimate auto professionals can avoid fines by showing that they have a proper license. For example, an auto vehicle repair business would be exempt from this law. 

California Already Has Strict Laws Against Stealing Auto Parts

This new bill is the latest step in a coordinated effort to crack down on the theft and resale of auto parts in California, and many other related laws already exist. One of the most relevant laws specifically targets so-called “chop shops,” businesses that specialize in buying stolen vehicles or parts. If you operate a business and the authorities find a stolen part or car on your premises, you could find yourself facing up to four years in prison. This might also involve disguising or altering parts in a way to hide their illegal origin. You must knowingly engage in these activities to be found guilty, however. This means that unknowingly accepting stolen catalytic converters is not a crime. 

Another relevant offense is Tampering with a Motor Vehicle. This law specifically addresses crimes that involve damaging vehicles or removing parts without actually stealing the entire car. This crime does not involve breaking into the vehicle, per se. You could spend up to one year in jail for this offense, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. 

There are also a number of other crimes that a person might be charged with if they remove a catalytic converter from a vehicle on the street:

  • Vandalism
  • Petty theft
  • Grand theft
  • Auto burglary
  • Conspiracy

Conspiracy is a particularly notable offense that applies to those involved with catalytic converter theft “rings” or organizations. The authorities have clearly made a concerted effort to crack down on these theft rings, targeting not only those stealing converters, but also buyers and sellers on the black market. 

Certain municipalities in California have created their own laws regarding catalytic converter theft. In Los Angeles, it is already illegal to possess a single catalytic converter without proof that you own it. If you cannot produce proof of ownership, you face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Expect Little Sympathy From California Criminal Courts

One thing is certain: The average California motorist is growing tired of continued catalytic converter theft. Many people have been forced to replace their converters on multiple occasions due to repeated theft. These repairs can cost thousands of dollars depending on the circumstances – especially when motorists lack appropriate insurance coverage. It goes without saying that lawmakers are listening carefully to their constituents, who are demanding higher penalties for this crime. 

It is widely accepted that California leads the entire nation in catalytic converter theft. Despite this, it does not have the strictest laws regarding this crime. Other states have quickly enacted serious penalties that specifically target catalytic converter theft, and it is entirely possible to see a five-year prison sentence for this crime in some parts of the nation. Somewhat predictably, the states with the most draconian laws have seen the greatest reduction in catalytic converter theft. 

California lawmakers may be reluctant to create these more draconian laws due to concerns that they would disproportionately affect the most marginalized communities in California. Nevertheless, increasing pressure from the general population could eventually force the State’s hand. After all, people in marginalized communities are having their catalytic converters stolen as well. 

Whatever the case may be, defendants may face very little sympathy from judges, prosecutors, and juries in California after being charged with stealing converters. Many people have experienced this theft firsthand, and courts are now more likely to pursue more serious sentences. This means that it is more important than ever to develop an effective defense strategy. 

Defense Strategies for Catalytic Converter Theft in California

There are a number of potential defense strategies that may be effective for those accused of catalytic converter theft:

  • Mistaken identity
  • Unconstitutional search or traffic stop
  • Violation of rights
  • You had the proper license
  • You didn’t know the converters were stolen
  • You were at the wrong place at the wrong time

Where Can I Find a Criminal Defense Attorney in California?

If you have been accused of catalytic converter theft or any other auto crime in California, consider seeking legal assistance as soon as possible. Heightened penalties and less sympathy from courts mean that an effective defense strategy is more important than ever before. Work with Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP to determine your legal options and assess the most appropriate defense strategy. Choose an experienced criminal defense attorney in California and fight for your rights with confidence.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.