Monday, October 13, 2008

Lemons, Odometers, and Criminal Penalties From Guest Blogger Sergei Lemberg

Sergei Lemberg, an attorney specializing in lemon law and auto fraud, and author of the great Lemon Justice Blog is sitting in the guest blogger’s chair today.

By Sergi Lemberg

Unfortunately, the behavior of some people who sell cars reinforces all of the terrible stereotypes we have about car salespeople. And sometimes it even crosses over the line into the arena of criminal prosecution. For example, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, odometer fraud has escalated dramatically along with the demand for low-mileage used cars. The NHTSA notes, “Strong enforcement of the federal and state odometer laws, i.e., prosecutions with stiff sentences, appears to be the most effective deterrent.”

Information on the Feds providing financial assistance to state agencies that pursue odometer fraud is found here.

U.S. Law (49 U.S.C. 32709) provides for criminal penalties for odometer fraud that include fines and up to three years of imprisonment. It even holds corporations accountable, in that the penalties also apply to directors, officers, and agents.

Criminal penalties also come into play when manufacturers and dealers fail to brand lemon titles as such. In about half of the states, when a vehicle is so defective as to be termed a “lemon,” there is a requirement to note that on the title so an unsuspecting consumer won’t unwittingly buy a defective vehicle. This phenomenon also comes into play for vehicles that have been declared “total losses,” such as the thousands of flood-damaged vehicles following Hurricane Katrina.

The problem is that, because state laws vary considerably, it’s easy for unscrupulous sellers to “wash” titles by taking vehicles to a state with a weaker statute, registering them so they have “clean” titles, and then reintroducing them in states that have stronger laws. The situation is all the more difficult because states can’t easily share information about vehicle titles with one another.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

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