WHAT IS TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
The Texas law against tampering with identification numbers prohibits removing, altering, or obliterating a serial number or other permanent identification marking on tangible personal property.
A person also commits tampering with identification numbers by possessing, selling, or offering to sell property on which the serial number or identification marking has been removed—i.e., possessing or selling property a reasonable person would have known is stolen. The Texas Legislature criminalized the removal of permanent identification markers on tangible personal property because such conduct facilitates theft.
- What is a “serial number” or “other permanent identification marking”? The serial number or permanent identification marking is a unique number that allows a particular piece of property to be identified. For example, a motor vehicle’s vehicle identification number (“VIN”), a unique number etched into a bicycle, firearm, or stereo equipment, or other number on an item that allows stolen property to be traced.
WHAT IS THE TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS LAW IN TEXAS?
Tex. Penal Code § 31.11. TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) knowingly or intentionally removes, alters, or obliterates the serial number or other permanent identification marking on tangible personal property; or
(2) possesses, sells, or offers for sale tangible personal property and:
(A) the actor knows that the serial number or other permanent identification marking has been removed, altered, or obliterated; or
(B) a reasonable person in the position of the actor would have known that the serial number or other permanent identification marking has been removed, altered, or obliterated.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the person was:
(1) the owner or acting with the effective consent of the owner of the property involved;
(2) a peace officer acting in the actual discharge of official duties; or
(3) acting with respect to a number assigned to a vehicle by the Texas Department of Transportation or the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, as applicable, and the person was:
(A) in the actual discharge of official duties as an employee or agent of the department; or
(B) in full compliance with the rules of the department as an applicant for an assigned number approved by the department.
(c) Property involved in a violation of this section may be treated as stolen for purposes of custody and disposition of the property.
(d) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
WHAT IS THE PENALTY CLASS FOR TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
Tampering with identification numbers is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail.
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT RANGE FOR TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
Tampering with identification numbers, a Class A misdemeanor, carries a possible year in jail, and a maximum fine of $4,000.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
A person convicted of tampering with identification numbers may be eligible for probation for up to two years. To avoid a conviction, a person may plead guilty or nolo contendere (“no contest”) to a judge in exchange for deferred adjudication community supervision for up to two years.
WHAT ARE THE DEFENSES TO TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
The statute does not authorize specific defenses to tampering with identification numbers. A person accused thereof may assert any defense in an attempt to negate at least one of the elements the State must prove at trial. For example, an accused may argue he or she lacked the requisite knowledge or intent to commit the offense.
WHAT IS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS?
The limitation period for tampering with identification numbers, a Class A misdemeanor, is two years.
TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS IN TEXAS
Tampering with identification numbers was enacted to discourage conduct facilitating theft. When unique identification numbers are obliterated or removed, tracing a stolen object becomes more difficult. In scenarios where a person is stopped while driving a motorcycle or car with an obliterated VIN, police may not be able to prove the vehicle was stolen, but can arrest the person for tampering with identification numbers.
TEXAS TAMPERING WITH IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS COURT CASES
The case law regarding tampering with identification numbers in Texas shows this charge is usually accompanied by charges of theft or unauthorized use of a vehicle.
In Miller v. State, the defendant was arrested while driving a stolen truck. The VIN plate was taken from a different truck, and placed onto the stolen one. Officers were able to verify the truck was stolen through other means, despite the vehicle’s identification number being altered. The defendant was convicted of tampering with identification numbers, theft, and unauthorized use of a vehicle. The appellate court affirmed.