Branded Title and Restitution

People v. Newsom (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 10, 2022, No. B312652) 2022 WL 92779, at *1

What is “Branded Title”

A “branded title” can reduce a car’s resale value.

According to the California DMV- Brands provide important information about a vehicle’s history. They are given to vehicles with high mileage, significant damage, chronic problems, etc.

The following brands are included on California Certificates of Title and DMV records:

Salvaged: Vehicles marked with a “salvaged” brand were involved in an accident, or incurred considerable damage from another source, such as a flood or vandalism. This brand includes previously dismantled (junk) vehicles.

Original Taxi (or Prior Taxi): Vehicles formerly used for hire (which usually have high mileage).

Original Police (or Prior Police): Vehicles formerly used by law enforcement (which usually have high mileage).

Non-USA (Grey market): Vehicles originally manufactured for sale and use outside the United States, but which have been converted to meet federal and California safety and emissions standards.

Warranty Return (or Lemon Law Buyback): Vehicles which have been returned to the manufacturer under California’s Lemon Law.

Remanufactured: Vehicles remanufactured by a licensed remanufacturer who builds vehicles using reconditioned or used parts. These vehicles may be sold under a distinctive trade name.

Park Trailer: Vehicles sized 400 sq. ft. or less of total floor area (excluding compliant loft area space) that are designed for human habitation for recreational or seasonal use only. Park trailers are built upon a single chassis, and may only be transported upon the public highways with a CA Dept. of Transportation permit pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) §35780.

California has indicated prior history on titling documents for many years. Vehicle history information is displayed on the latest revision of both the California Certificate of Title and Salvage Certificate.

More generally, a branded title vehicle is any vehicle that has experienced an insurance incident.

Stealing a car can brand its title. Branded title cars sell for lower prices than identical cars with clean titles.

A criminal restitution order account for loss of a stolen car’s value through branded title

A criminal restitution order can account for this loss. The lost value is objectively quantifiable and purposes of restitution, the loss is real.

Facts: Police caught  Newsom with a stolen Audi. She pleaded no contest to theft offenses and at  the restitution hearing, agreed to a sum to repair the car. The Audi owner also submitted an email from a car dealer explaining that, because of the Audi’s branded title, it now was worth $15,000 instead of $18,000 to $20,000. The prosecutor explained that the car’s title notes when the car is stolen , which reduces the car’s market value.

Newsom accepted $3,000 as the dollar value of the title brand , but she challenged whether this loss can be part of a restitution order. Newsom argued the owner does not realize the loss until the car is sold and the owner might never sell, Therefore, the $3,000 loss is merely speculative.

The trial court r rejected Newsom’s argument.

Restitution under California Law

The California Constitution requires courts to order restitution when a crime victim suffers a loss. (Cal. Const., art. I, § 28, subd. (b)(13)(B).) Penal Code section 1202.4, subdivision (f) states restitution should be based on the amount of loss the victim claims and should fully reimburse the victim for every economic loss the defendant’s criminal conduct caused. A court liberally construe victims’ right to restitution and expansively interpret the meaning of economic loss. (People v. Grandpierre (2021) 66 Cal.App.5th 111, 115, 280 Cal.Rptr.3d 730.) The aim is to make the victim whole. (People v. Marrero (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 896, 906, 275 Cal.Rptr.3d 177.)

The trial court’s ruling was correct. The Audi owner suffered an actual economic loss that the repairs alone did not fully restore.

The Audi owner’s loss is as tangible as that of homeowners who discover a fault line beneath their home. This discovery diminishes their property’s market value. Even if the home is not sold There is a quantifiable  decrease in their their net worth in an objectively quantifiable way. Newsom’s theft caused a similar economic loss from the branded title.

The Court affirmed the restitution order.


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