Senior Assistant District Attorney
Office of the District Attorney
One Courthouse Square
Carlisle, PA 17013
Dear Mr. Placey:
This responds to your letter of July 20, 1995. You present the fact situation of the theft in Canada of a Canadian-owned GMC Jimmy which was then imported into the United States and delivered to a conspirator in Pennsylvania. The conspirator altered the VIN and sold the Jimmy which was eventually seized by the Pennsylvania State Police. The Jimmy's buyer wants the vehicle back and has filed with the local state court for its return.
You write "The issue, on the federal level, is can this vehicle ever be properly registered in the United States. What are the specific federal laws or regulations that govern such situations."
We cannot answer the question whether this vehicle can be properly registered in the United States, because there are no Federal requirements that apply to the registration of privately owned vehicles. Each State establishes its own requirements. For an overview of State laws on vehicle registration, we suggest that you write the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203.
There are two Federal laws which we administer that are relevant to the situation you present. Missing from your scenario is the fact whether the Jimmy was manufactured in the United States in compliance with the U. S. Federal motor vehicle safety standards. If the answer is yes, then its importation by any person does not violate the Federal statutes under which we operate. If it was not manufactured to conform, we note that the importation of a nonconforming vehicle is an act forbidden by 49 U.S.C. 30112(a) for which a civil penalty may be imposed under 49 U.S.C. 30165. The
statute does not provide the right to seize a nonconforming vehicle. Furthermore, the statute does not forbid the sale of a used nonconforming imported vehicle.
There may be a violation of 49 U.S.C. 30122 because of the defacing of the VIN. Under this section, no manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business may knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed in accordance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. The VIN was installed in accordance with 49 CFR 571.115 Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No 115 Vehicle Identification Number. We view the alteration of the VIN as a violation of this section, if the conspirator who altered it was a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business as those terms are described in the statute. Violators of this section are also subject to a civil penalty under 49 U.S.C. 30165.
We are unable to advise you on the laws or regulations administered by other Federal agencies. For example, we cannot advise you whether the U.S. has entered into any treaties or other agreements with Canada concerning the treatment of property that is stolen from that country. You may write for an opinion to the United States Department of State, Office of Foreign Mission, 3507 International Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008.
If you have further questions, Taylor Vinson of this Office will be able to help you with them (202-366- 5263).
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel