Proving Violations of 18 U.S.C. § 511
It is not necessary to allege in the indictment the absence of the
exceptions contained in subsection 18 U.S.C. § 511 (b). See
Manual at 226 (Negating Statutory Exceptions). The
of the term "unlawfully" excludes the coverage of the lawful removal or
destruction of a number. A reason why you may wish to specifically describe
altered VIN is to establish with some specificity the actual motor vehicle
is the subject matter of the indictment. To prove a violation of Section
it must be established that: (1) the defendant knowingly removed,
tampered with, or altered an identification number on a road motor vehicle
component); (2) the identification number was one required by the United
Department of Transportation (DOT); and (3) such conduct was not done
(e.g., defendant knew the vehicle was stolen and was trying to conceal its
The essence of the offense is to show a removal, obliteration,
tampering with, or alteration by the defendant. Eyewitness testimony is the
evidence to prove that the defendant removed or falsified the number. Proof
a removal of a number should be easily accomplished by persons familiar with
numbers should be present on a motor vehicle or part.
Proof of the falsification of a VIN will require in most cases
testimony. Law enforcement experts may be able to detect "concealed"
placed by the manufacturer on the motor vehicle. From such information, the
original VIN can be reconstructed. If you know the make and model year of
motor vehicle in question, analysis of what the VIN characters for such a
should have been will help establish a falsification.
In regard to the present 17 characters VINs, each character or
of characters has meaning. The falsification of a number can be established
experts from the law enforcement community, the National Insurance Crime
(NICB), and the manufacturers. The meaning of the various characteristics
VIN for a particular vehicle can be explained by these experts.
The manufacturer's production records will reflect whether a
having a certain VIN was ever manufactured for that model year. If the
has duplicated an existing VIN from another vehicle, the manufacturer's
along with the VIN will reveal the particular characteristics of the vehicle
having the original (i.e., authentic) VIN, thus permitting a comparison of
physical attributes of the two vehicles to determine to which vehicle the
actually originally assigned by the manufacturer.
In most prosecutable cases, your expert witnesses will be able to
establish the identity of the original VIN. However, if that is not
a successful prosecution should still be possible by showing that the
manufactured by a particular manufacturer, that such manufacturer always
certified compliance with the DOT standard(s) (which compliance meant the
had the required VIN (or component numbers)) and that the VIN (or component
numbers) on the vehicle (or part) was not one the manufacturer assigned to
of its vehicles (or parts).
The evidence must establish an unlawful removal or falsification.
lawful removals can be found in 18 U.S.C. §§ 511(b) and 512(a)(3).
subsection 511(b), these lawful exceptions do not apply if the person knows
the motor vehicle or part is stolen. Except for the area of "repair," these
exceptions should cause no significant enforcement problem. The relevant
of H.R.Rep. No. 1089 on H.R. 6257, 98th Cong., 2d Sess. 23-25 (1984), makes
that the "repair" exception is intended for the protection of the honest
shop operator who while fixing a part does some injury to its identification
number. The exception "is not intended to apply to the operators of "chop
shops,' who remove such parts - not repairing or recycling them for lawful
purposes." Most of the states that are parties to the interstate compact,
created the Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission (VESC), have established
their respective state laws, procedures for the restoration and replacement
missing identification numbers. See Regulation VESC-18, Standardized
Replacement Vehicle Identification Number System.
For further discussion of 18 U.S.C. § 511, see this Manual at 1375.
[cited in Criminal Resource Manual 1366; Criminal Resource Manual 1375; Criminal Resource Manual 1376; Criminal Resource Manual 1377; USAM 9-61.700]