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3 Years Prison in CA For Covering Laptop

mrcaseyj (902945) writes | more than 4 years ago


mrcaseyj (902945) writes "California penal code section 537e makes it a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison to be in possession of an integrated computer panel where the serial number or any other distinguishing number or identification mark has been covered. It's also a crime punishable by 6 months or a year to cover or obliterate the serial number or identification mark of just about any other personal property, from tools to CDs and much more. While a district attorney might have a hard time prosecuting you for such a crime, it appears a police officer could still take you to jail without having to worry about getting in trouble, because covering is apparently illegal by the letter of the law."
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California Penal Code Section 537e (1)

BananaSlug (450565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29862685)

(a) Any person who knowingly buys, sells, receives, disposes
of, conceals, or has in his or her possession any personal property
from which the manufacturer's serial number, identification number,
electronic serial number, or any other distinguishing number or
identification mark has been removed, defaced, covered, altered, or
destroyed, is guilty of a public offense, punishable as follows:
      (1) If the value of the property does not exceed four hundred
dollars ($400), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six
      (2) If the value of the property exceeds four hundred dollars
($400), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year.
      (3) If the property is an integrated computer chip or panel of a
value of four hundred dollars ($400) or more, by imprisonment in the
state prison for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years or by imprisonment in a
county jail not exceeding one year.
      For purposes of this subdivision, "personal property" includes,
but is not limited to, the following:
      (1) Any television, radio, recorder, phonograph, telephone, piano,
or any other musical instrument or sound equipment.
      (2) Any washing machine, sewing machine, vacuum cleaner, or other
household appliance or furnishings.
      (3) Any typewriter, adding machine, dictaphone, or any other
office equipment or furnishings.
      (4) Any computer, printed circuit, integrated chip or panel, or
other part of a computer.
      (5) Any tool or similar device, including any technical or
scientific equipment.
      (6) Any bicycle, exercise equipment, or any other entertainment or
recreational equipment.
      (7) Any electrical or mechanical equipment, contrivance, material,
or piece of apparatus or equipment.
      (8) Any clock, watch, watch case, or watch movement.
      (9) Any vehicle or vessel, or any component part thereof.
      (b) When property described in subdivision (a) comes into the
custody of a peace officer it shall become subject to the provision
of Chapter 12 (commencing with Section 1407) of Title 10 of Part 2,
relating to the disposal of stolen or embezzled property. Property
subject to this section shall be considered stolen or embezzled
property for the purposes of that chapter, and prior to being
disposed of, shall have an identification mark imbedded or engraved
in, or permanently affixed to it.
      (c) This section does not apply to those cases or instances where
any of the changes or alterations enumerated in subdivision (a) have
been customarily made or done as an established practice in the
ordinary and regular conduct of business, by the original
manufacturer, or by his or her duly appointed direct representative,
or under specific authorization from the original manufacturer.


3. Property in personal chattels is either absolute or qualified; absolute, when the owner has a complete title and full dominion over it; qualified, when he has a temporary or special interest, liable to be totally divested on the happening of some particular event. 2 Kent, Com. 281.

We tend to think of personal property rights as absolute. In California the State claims your rights are qualified and subject to imprisonment for removal or concealment of identifying marks on your personal property. Your absolute rights have been subsumed by the State.

In case you haven't noticed processed food is all labeled with lot numbers. Six months for obliterating the lot number on a soda can or ripping the end tab off a box of vanilla wafers? ("other distinguishing number or identification mark")

Sounds like you can't remove those Windows certificate tags from the bottom of your laptop when you delete Windows in favor of installing Linux, either. No more reassigning MAC addresses on your Ethernet interfaces...

I guess it's easier to keep the proles in line when you first make them all criminals. Next thing you know those mattress tags you pulled off will mean hard time.

Maybe this law is poorly crafted?

Re:California Penal Code Section 537e (1)

mrcaseyj (902945) | more than 4 years ago | (#29863193)

The above quoted code section is correct, but it looks like my link to the official California Code may not be working. So here is another try at the link: []

Scroll down about two thirds of the page for section 537e.

Guess I'm breaking the law. (1)

gillbates (106458) | more than 4 years ago | (#29865193)

I've got an EEE pc where the serial number has faded (been altered) because of the heat. So technically, I'm breaking the law in California.

I wonder how Californians deal with the fact that manufacturers often print serial numbers with ink that fades over time. (As one can't make a warranty claim without a serial number, it suits the manufacturer's interests to do so.)

I'm tempted to call the DA's office and as him what I should do with my computer. It's not only illegal for me to possess it, it is also illegal for me to dispose of it. So, if I understand it right, the only way to avoid the commission of a felony in California is simply not to buy personal possessions (electronic or otherwise) that contain serial numbers, or, to sell them before the numbers fade.

Re:Guess I'm breaking the law. (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29867505)

When the cop arrests you, point out that he covered up the serial number on his gun when he put it in the holster...


Re:Guess I'm breaking the law. (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29868119)

I own what I own. There are specific registration laws regarding firearms and transportation vehicles (motorcycles, cars, trucks, aircraft) which dictate that the serial numbers remain intact. Anything else, they'll just have to arrest me, and we'll slug it out in court. It's unconstitutional to claim that my ownership is NOT absolute. If I have the right to destroy or dispose of something, I certainly have the right to deface it.

To quote the Anthem (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 4 years ago | (#29865733)

... the land of the Fr... oh wait.

Crime and Punishment in CA (1)

ujoronen (1485891) | more than 4 years ago | (#29866763)

"If the property is an integrated computer chip or panel of a value of four hundred dollars ($400) or more, by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year."

Okay... Say I take the case off my laptop and repackage it with an ubercool handmade steampunk case. Do I get 12, 16, 24, or 36 months? Besides the issue I have with telling me what I can do with what I own, what is the punishment for this "crime"?

People wonder why I live in a small Colorado town where I know the judge and the sheriff is my neighbor. California is getting a real bad reputation. My co-worker just laughed and said "Florida can't vote, California can't think, and we can't breathe."
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