Grand Theft Auto

California has several criminal codes, including the Penal Code and the Vehicle Code, which definse the offense of vehicle theft. There’s a subtle distinction between illegal taking and driving of an auto (joyriding) and grand theft auto. Specific facts must be proven to have any of these charges brought against you. Particularly, intent is critical when determining which offense you have committed, or if you have committed any crime whatsoever.

There are several complications present in the laws addressing these kinds of crimes. Therefore, we highly recommended that you seek help from a dependable criminal defense lawyer if you have been accused of any of the above-mentioned offenses. For Santa Ana residents and surrounding areas, contact Darwish Law as soon as you get arrested. Our lawyers are highly experienced and have a deep understanding of California grand theft auto laws. We will apply our knowledge in fighting for you to have your charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser severe offense. Reach out immediately after getting arrested so we can have enough time to prepare a solid defense.

Understanding the Legal Meaning of the Offense of Grand Theft Auto

The legal meaning of grand theft auto (GTA) is set forth under Penal Code (PC) 487d1. This offense is defined as taking another person’s vehicle that is valued at $950 or higher, with no permission from the rightful owner, intending to deprive that owner of their vehicle. The crime can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor.

Auto theft can result in charges for one of these distinct offenses: grand theft auto under PC 487d1 or the illegal driving or taking of an automobile (usually called joyriding) under VC 10851. The distinction between these two crimes revolves around the length of the period you intended to have the vehicle you took in your possession.

In case you had planned to have the auto for a significant period of time, or permanently, you will likely face GTA charges under PC 487d1. If you just wanted to have the car in your possession for a short time, there’s a chance you’ll face joyriding charges under VC 10851.

Elements of the Crime

The lawful meaning of GTA involves various facts that are known as elements of the offense. These are factors that the prosecution must prove for a defendant to be convicted of grand theft auto. These elements include:

  • You took an automobile owned by another person
  • The auto was worth over $950, in many cases
  • You did not have authorization from the owner to have it
  • You took that car with the intent to either deprive its owner of it for good or deprive its owner of it for a long enough time that they would not enjoy a substantial part of the enjoyment or value of it
  • You moved that car (even moving it the shortest distance possible counts) and had it for an amount of time, regardless of how brief

The elements we have listed above constitute the lawful definition of the common type of GTA, also called GTA by larceny. You may also be considered to have committed a GTA offense by engaging in any of these acts:

  • Using pretense, for instance, deceit or a lie to persuade another person to transfer to you the ownership of his/her car
  • Using tricks to convince someone else to allow you to assume possession of his/her car
  • Taking a person’s vehicle through embezzlement, or otherwise abusing your position of trust and taking another person’s car

The Legal Meaning of Joyriding

The lawful meaning of illegally driving or taking an auto (joyriding) is quite distinct from the definition of grand theft auto. When it comes to joyriding, the factors that the prosecution must prove are as follows:

  • You drove or took another person’s car without his/her consent
  • You had the intention to deprive its owner of it for any period the moment you took it
  • Therefore, here, the primary difference between GTA and joyriding is:
  • For a GTA crime, you must have had the intent to steal that auto for a period long enough to permanently deprive its owner of substantial enjoyment or value of it.
  • For joyriding, you only have had the intent to deprive the car owner of it for any amount of time, regardless of how short. For instance, it could even be 30 minutes or less.
  • The judge can convict you of GTA even when you had permission from the car’s owner to take it, as long as you acquired that permission by using tricks or fraud/pretense.
  • For joyriding, if you obtained the car’s owner consent to have the car, you aren’t guilty, regardless of whether you got that permission through deceit or fraud.

Legal Defenses for a Grand Theft Auto Charge

Both GTA and joyriding can be severe charges. Luckily, with help from an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can have your charges dismissed or reduced by arguing various common valid defenses. Legal arguments that could apply to auto theft charges are:

You Didn’t Have Intent

This defense can only be used for PC 487d1. If you’re facing GTA charges under PC 487d1, you might be capable of fighting them by the argument that you didn’t purposely steal the vehicle. This is because the aim to steal is a critical element of the lawful meaning of grand theft auto, just like in all other forms of grand theft. However, keep in mind that this argument won’t work against joyriding charges because the purpose to steal isn’t required under this law.

If your lawyer can prove that the prosecution doesn’t have adequate proof of intent, they can have your charges lowered from GTA to joyriding. Joyriding is often a misdemeanor carrying lighter punishments and isn’t as much of an issue on a person’s record.

Consent from the Owner

If the car owner had authorized you to take it, there’s no theft, either joyriding or GTA. As we discussed earlier, consent can be a legal defense to joyriding charges. However, it can’t be used to defend against grand theft auto charges under PC 487 if you acquired that authorization through tricks or fraud.

However, consent isn’t a legal defense merely because the car’s owner might have permitted you to use their vehicle previously. Additionally, your use of the vehicle has to fall within the limits of the permission the owner granted.

False Accusations

Like it is with all offenses, people get accused falsely of joyriding and grand theft auto all too frequently. It could be that your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend had granted you the authority to use their car then attempted to withdraw that consent after an argument or fight. It could also be that you were in the company of your friends with whom you were joyriding, and they want you to take the fall.

An expert defense lawyer can help in piecing together the critical facts of your crime and finding mistakes in the prosecutor’s proof, which will help ensure that you receive a just ruling from the judge.

Claim of Right

You wouldn’t be found guilty of joyriding or GTA if the auto you were operating was yours, in a real sense. You cannot be found guilty of GTA in case you reasonably believed that the car was yours irrespective of whether the belief was true or not.

Consequences of Auto Theft

Grand theft auto and joyriding offenses are separately punished as follows:

Grand Theft Auto Penalties

GTA under PC 487d1 is a type of grand theft under PC 487 and carries similar punishments as that offense. Thus, GTA is charged as a wobbler under the law. By this, it means it can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor based on the facts of the specific crime and the accused’s criminal record. However, practically, most prosecutors usually charge GTA as a felony. The penalties for a felony grand theft auto offense are a maximum fine of $10,000 and a jail sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.

If you have a previous conviction of auto theft, then under PC 666.5, your sentencing range will increase to 2, 3, or 4 years. In case the car you stole was particularly an expensive one, you will face additional & consecutive prison time as follows:

  • An additional 1 year in case the vehicle was worth over $65.000, or
  • An additional 2 years in case the auto was worth over $200,000, which is uncommon, but it does happen.

Penalties for Joyriding

Joyriding is also a wobbler. However, unlike grand theft auto, the charges for joyriding are often filed as misdemeanors for first-time offenders. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, your maximum punishment will be a maximum of a year in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.

However, remember that the prosecution always has the discretion of charging you with felony joyriding. If this happens, you will face 16 months, 2 or 3 years of a county jail sentence, and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Consequences of Joyriding in a Police Vehicle, Disabled Placard Vehicle, or an Ambulance 

The punishments for illegally driving or taking of an automobile may increase in case the car you took is classified under any of these:

  • A specially marked firefighting or law enforcement vehicle that’s on an emergency call
  • An ambulance that’s on an emergency call
  • A vehicle modified for use by a disabled individual, which showed a distinctive placard, for instance, a license plate

You will face felony charges if you are caught joyriding using any of the vehicles we have mentioned above. If convicted, your punishment will be 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. It is worth noting that these additional penalties will only apply if you were aware or should reasonably have been aware that the automobile was classified under the mentioned categories.

Convictions of Past Felony Auto Theft

The punishments for joyriding will change if you have any of these on your criminal record:

  • One or more previous convictions for joyriding as a felony
  • One or more past convictions for GTA as a felony under PC 487d1
  • One or more previous sentences for stealing vehicle cargo valued at over $950, violating PC 487h. This is another variation of the grand theft offense.

In case you have any of the prior sentences above, your joyriding crime will automatically become a felony. The possible consequences will be up to $10,000 in fines and 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail.

Related Offenses to GTA/Joyriding

We have several related offenses that are usually charged instead of or along with vehicle theft (joyriding or GTA). These include:

Petty Theft (PC 488) of a Vehicle

If you’re alleged to have stolen a car that’s worth $950 or less, you’ll face petty theft charges instead of GTA. This applies to all the accused persons except those that have convictions of sex offenses that need them to register as sex offenders and those that have specific severe felony convictions like rape, murder, child molestation, and sexually violent crimes on their criminal record.

A petty theft crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Remember that this crime wasn’t always prosecuted this way. Before Proposition 47 was passed, all auto theft cases were considered as GTA offenses, irrespective of the worthiness of the automobile.

Thus, in case you have been convicted of a felony GTA for stealing an auto valued at lower than $950, you can appeal the sentence under Prop 47.

Burglary & Auto Burglary (PC 459)

A PC 459 burglary is the entering of a building intending to commit petty theft or a felony once inside. A vehicle burglary crime is a similar thing except for the fact that it entails the entering of an auto rather than a building, with intent to commit theft or a felony.

Thus, suppose you’re accused of entering another person’s garage and stealing their car. In this case, you can face charges of burglary (for getting into the garage), as well as GTA (for taking away the vehicle). Suppose you are accused of breaking into an auto, intending to make away with it. In this case, you might face auto burglary charges, even when you did not, in reality, succeed in stealing the auto.

Burglary is charged as a felony. Its possible sentence is 16 months, 2 or 3 years in prison. However, the penalty could go to a maximum of 6 years in prison if the crime is carried out in a lived-in trailer or house.

Receiving Stolen Property (PC 496)

PC 496 laws make it an offense to receive, buy, sell, conceal, or withhold stolen property. As per the law, you can’t be found guilty of both PC 496 and the real theft of property. Thus, you’re unlikely to get charged under both PC 496 and PC 487d1 laws.

However, things are quite different when it comes to joyriding. If you receive or buy an automobile that you are aware is stolen and then drive it, you can face both Penal Code 496 charges for obtaining the car, to begin with, and joyriding for operating the stolen automobile, naturally with no consent from the owner.

Whether the judge can convict you of both PC 496 and joyriding is a challenging question. Generally, in case you receive or otherwise help a person hide a stolen vehicle, and then get charged with illegally operating it for an entirely different act, typically happening on a separate day, you could be found guilty of both crimes.

Carjacking (PC 215)

If the prosecution is accusing you of taking another person’s vehicle directly from them by using physical force or the fear of physical force to have them give the car to you, you can face both PC 215 carjacking and auto theft. Carjacking is prosecuted as a felony. It carries prison time of 3, 5, or 9 years.

Additionally, carjacking is classified as a violent felony under the law. This means that it’s a strike crime under the Three Strikes laws. Therefore, it is particularly critical that you fight carjacking charges should you get prosecuted under both carjacking and vehicle theft laws.

Contact an Experienced Theft Crimes Attorney Near Me

At Darwish Law, we will apply the full extent of our skills and knowledge to get you significantly lowered charges if they are not dismissed altogether. Whatever your strongest defense is, we will do the best we can to find and capitalize on it so that we obtain the best outcome for you. Please get in touch with us as soon as possible so that we can evaluate your case and prepare the best possible defense strategy. We have successfully defended many clients in Santa Ana, who can attest to our expert legal representation. Contact us at 714-887-4810 if you have any questions or concerns about your case.