Federal Crimes Blog

18 U.S.C. § 2322 - Chop Shops

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Dec 21, 2023

Under federal law, a “chop shop” is generally described as a business receiving, concealing, destroying, or illegally obtaining motor vehicles to sell their parts. This law is codified under Title 18 U.S. Code 2322 Chop Shops, found within 18 U.S. Code Chapter 13, Stolen Property, and other related federal laws.

The United States Congress enacted this law specifically focusing on chop shops, even though other laws prohibit this type of crime, such as the receipt or possession of stolen property defined under 18 U.S.C. 2315.

18 U.S.C. § 2322 - Chop Shops
18 U.S. Code 2322 is the federal statute making it a crime to own or operate a chop shop.

Another related crime is 18 U.S. Code 2321, which prohibits trafficking in certain motor vehicles or parts with the intent to sell or dispose of them. 18 U.S. Code 511 prohibits altering or removing motor vehicle identification numbers.

Since motor vehicle parts typically lose their identity as stolen property after removal, and because chop shop operators usually dispose of the stolen parts, evidence of interstate distribution is often difficult to obtain. 

Simply put, it's a federal offense to knowingly own, operate, maintain, or control a “chop shop,” a business that strips stolen vehicles to sell the parts. While most states have laws punishing illegal chop shop operators, these cases sometimes fall under federal jurisdiction. 

Suppose someone has a small local chop shop operation. In that case, it will generally fall under state laws. However, the federal government could get involved if the operation crosses state lines or international borders.

What Is a Chop Shop?

Section 2322(b) defines the term “chop shop” as “any building, lot, facility, or other structure or premise where one or more persons engage in receiving, concealing, destroying, disassembling, dismantling, reassembling, or storing any passenger motor vehicle or passenger motor vehicle part which has been unlawfully obtained to alter, counterfeit, deface, destroy, disguise, falsify, forge, obliterate, or remove the identity, including the vehicle identification number or derivative thereof, of such vehicle or vehicle part and to distribute, sell, or dispose of such vehicle or vehicle part in interstate or foreign commerce.

A “motor vehicle” includes “an automobile, automobile truck, automobile wagon, motorcycle, or any other self-propelled vehicle designed for running on land but not on rails.” Simply put, chop shops typically buy and sell stolen cars and parts involving the following activity:

  • Store stolen vehicles to sell later,
  • Strip vehicle parts to sell,
  • Reassemble vehicles and sell them,
  • Remove or change the vehicle identification number (VIN),
  • Reassemble vehicles and sell them. 

Sometimes, illegal chop shops run their operation as a legitimate business front. For instance, a mechanic, auto body, or parts shop could stock and sell legitimate parts while selling stolen parts under the radar.  

What Factors Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To convict you of violating section 2322, chop shop law, a federal prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, several elements of the crime, such as the following: 

  • You acquired or possessed a vehicle or part with the VIN or other identification that was illegally tampered with or removed,
  • You knew of the illegal alteration or removal,
  • You intended to sell or dispose of the vehicle or parts.

As noted, all states have their laws dealing with illegal chop shops. For example, California Vehicle Code 10801 VC operating a chop shop.

The case is typically prosecuted under state laws if the illegal activities are within state borders. However, if the chop shop activities cross state lines, called “interstate or foreign commerce,” the case could be prosecuted under federal laws. 

If you are convicted of owning or operating a chop shop, you will face up to 15 years in federal prison or up to 30 years for a second or subsequent offense.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 113, Stolen Property, has several federal statutes that are related to Section 2322, Chop Shops, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2311 – Definitions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2312 – Transportation of stolen vehicles,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2313 – Sale or receipt of stolen vehicles, 
  • 18 U.S.C. 2314 – Transportation of stolen goods, securities, money, fraudulent State tax stamps, or articles used in counterfeiting,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2315 – Sale or receipt of stolen goods, securities, money, or fraudulent State tax stamps,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2316 – Transportation of livestock,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2317 – Sale or receipt of livestock,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2318 – Trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319 – Criminal infringement of a copyright, 
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319A – Unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performances,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319B – Unauthorized recording of Motion pictures in a Motion picture exhibition facility,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319C – Illicit digital transmission services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2320 – Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2321 – Trafficking in certain motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2323 – Forfeiture, destruction, and restitution.

The most closely related federal offense, Section 2321, trafficking in certain motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, says,

(a) Whoever buys, receives, possesses, or obtains control of, with intent to sell or otherwise dispose of, a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part, knowing that an identification number for such motor vehicle or part has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

What Are the 18 U.S.C. 2322 Defenses? 

As noted, federal prosecutors must prove that you owned or controlled a chop shop facility and knowingly and willingly participated in disposing or selling stolen vehicles. It must also be proven that you had direct knowledge of the illegal activity occurring on the property.

Perhaps we can challenge one or more of these crucial elements of this crime. Our federal criminal defense lawyers might argue any of the following:

  • You were unaware the facility was being used as a chop shop,
  • You were not a willing participant,
  • You did not have control over the use of the facility,
  • You did not know the car or parts were illegally obtained or modified,
  • The ownership of the facility is in dispute. 

Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation and to discuss legal options. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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