GRAND THEFT AUTO

THE LAW

Simply put, grand theft auto is the unlawful taking of a vehicle with intent to deprive the owner permamently, or for an extended period of time, of the use of the vehicle.  In order prove you guitly of grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1), the prosecutor must prove all of the following beyond a reasonably doubt:

  1. You took a car that belonged to someone else;
  2. You did so without the person’s permission;
  3. The car was worth more than nine hundred fifty ($950) dollars;
  4. And when you took the car, you intended either to deprive the owner of it permanently, or for a period of time long enough to rob the owner of the use and enjoyment of it; AND

For example, Jason is a car salesperson at a car dealership.  Jason’s house just went into foreclosure, placing him and his family in dire financial circumstances.  Jason calculates that selling even just one of the dealership’s luxury calls will make up for five month’s of owed mortgages.  So, one day, Jason drives off with a luxury call with the intention to sell it at a black market.  Jason drives about 4 blocks with the car when he gets a call from his son.  Moved by the conversation with his som, Jason decides to forego the plan to steal the car.  He turns around and returns the car to the dealership.  In this scenario, if the prosecuiton can prove that Jason intended to keep the car and later sell it, Jason can get convicted of grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1).  It matters not that Jason drove the car for only a short distance and had possession of it for only a short time.  However, the fact that Jason abandoned the plan and returned the car is a mitigating factor that can be used to either reduce the charge of grand theft auto to joyriding and/or to reduce the punishment desired by the prosecution.

The example just stated, and the elements above, are a form of grand theft auto by larceny.  However, not all grand theft involves larceny.  Another form of grand theft is one accomplisehd by false pretenses or embezzlement.  For example, Jason asks Jill, his sister, to borrow her car for a few hours.  Jill gives Jason the keys to the car.  Jason drives the car from California to Arizona and gives it to his girlfriend.  Although Jason initially had permission from Jill to have possession of the car, he is guilty of grand theft auto by trick.  He used deception to gain possession of the vehicle and to then permanently deprive Jill of possession of the vehicle.

GRAND THEFT AND JOYRIDING

To prove you guilty of joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. You took or drove someone else’s vehicle without their consent; and
  2. When you took the car, you intended to deprive the owner of it for any period of time.

Thus, whereas a necessary element of grand theft auto is that the defendant intend to steal a vehicle permanenlty or for a period long enough to deprive the owner of signifant value or enjoyment of the vehicle, joyriding requires that the defendant intend to deprive the owner for any period of time, no matter how brief.

Imagine that Jason in the example above takes Jill’s car without Jill’s permission.  Jason then uses the car to take his girlfriend out to dinner.  Later, he returns the car to Jill.   Jason has committed joyriding even though he never intended to steal the car or deprive Jill of any significant value or enjoyment of it.

Note also that you can be convicted of grand theft auto even if you had the owner’s permission to take his or her car, so long as you acquired this permission through fraud, trickery, or false pretenses.  However, you cannot be convicted of joyriding if you had the owner’s permission to take the car, even if you obtained this permission through fraud or deceipt.

Imagine that Jason in the example above asks Jill to lend him his car.  Jill agrees, but only because Jason lies that he needs the car to take a friend to a hospital.  Jason uses the car to instead take his girfriend out on a date.  In this example, Jason cannot be found guilty of joyriding because he had Jill’s permission to drive the car, even though Jason obtained this permission by means of a trick.

PENALTIES FOR GRAND THEFT AUTO UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 487(d)

Grand theft auto under Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) is considered a “wobbler,” which means that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the specific circumstances of the offense and your criminal history.

The penalties for California felony Grand Theft Auto are:

  • sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in jail
  • a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or
  • both imprisonment and a fine.

Penalty for expensive cars

If you are found guilty of stealing a car worth over a certain amount, you will be subect to harsher penalties.  You will face an additional and consecutive prison sentence of one (1) year if, at the time of the theft, the car was worth over sixty-five thousand dollars ($65,000), and two (2) years if the car was worth over two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000).  

Penalties for Joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851

Under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, joyriding/unlawful taking of a vehicle is also a wobbler but joyriding charges are typically filed as a misdemeanor for first offenders. The maximum penalities for misdemeanor Joyriding under Vehicle Code 10851 VC are:

  • up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to five thousand dollars ($5,000).

If the prosecutor decides to charge the joyriding as a felony, the penalties may be:

  • sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000)

Penalties for joyriding in an ambulance, police vehicle, or disabled placard vehicle

There are enhanced penalties for unlawfully taking or driving certain vehicles including:

  1. An ambulance on an emergency call,
  2. A marked law enforcement or firefighting vehicle, or
  3. A vehicle intended for use by a disabled person and that displays a distinguishing plate or placard

If the defendant knew or should have known that the vehicle was any of the above, then unlawfully taking the vehicle is a felony the penalties for which include:

  • two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Prior convictions

Penalties and sentencing for violating Vehicle Code 10851 VC joyriding are different if the defendant has one (1) or more prior convictions for:

  1. Felony joyriding under Vehicle Code 10851 VC,
  2. Felony grand theft auto under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC, or
  3. Stealing cargo worth more than $950 in under Penal Code 487h PC California’s grand theft law.

Any of these prior convictions will mean that unlawful taking of a vehicle will be charged as a felony and the potential sentence will be:

  • two (2) three (3), or four (4) years in jail, and/or
  • a maximum often thousand dollars ($10,000) fine.

LEGAL DEFENSES TO GRAND THEFT AUTO UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 487(d)(1) PC

  • You did not have the requisite intent

If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently of the vehicle or for a period of time substantial enough to rob the owner of the use and enjoyment of the vehicle, then you cannot be found guitly of grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) PC.  Note, however, that intent to permanently deprive or deprive for a substantial amount of time is not a requisite element of joyriding.  So, while you may not be found guilty of grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) PC, you might by found guilty of joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851.

  • You believed reasonably and in good faith that the car belonged to you

If the car actually belonged to you, or if you believed in good faith that the car belonged to you, then you cannot be convicted of either joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851 or grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) PC.

  • You had the owner’s consent

Consent to grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) is a defense only if the vehicel was not obtained by deceit or fraud, and the vehicle was used for the purpose and manner that the owner intended.  As discussed above, consent is always a defense to joydriding, even it it was obtained by fraud or deceipt.

For example, Jason convinces his sister, Jill, to lend him his car by telling Jill that he will use the car to drive to a job interview and that immediately after he will return the car.  Jason does use the car to drive to the interview.  However, after the interview, Jason drives the car to Arizona without Jill’s permission and disappears with the car for months.  Jill files a police report.  In this example, Jason is guilty of grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) PC.  Although he initally had Jill’s consent to use the vehicle for a brief amount of time, he did not later have Jill’s consent to possess the vehicle for a duration, purpose, and manner that Jill had intended.  In this example, Jason is likely not guilty of joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851 because he intially did have Jill’s consent to possess the vehicle.

RELATED OFFENSES TO GRAND THEFT AUTO

Sometimes, the facts of a case do not constitute grand theft auto or joyriding. They do, however, constitute other related offenses such as:

  • Autho Burglary under Penal Code Section 459 PC

Penal Code 459 PC California burglary defines burglary as entering a building or other enclosure with the intent to commit a felony or a petty theft once inside.  California auto burglary is entering a car with the intent to commit a felony or theft.

  • Carjacking Under Penal Code section 215 PC

You may face charges under Penal Code section 215 PC, Carjacking, as well as for vehicle theft if you have been accused of using physical force or the threat of physical force to force an owner of a vehicle to give up possession of the vehicle.  Carjacking is a felony with a state prison sentence of three (3), five (5) or nine (9) years. Also, under California's Three Strikes law, carjacking is classified as a "violent" felony and is therefore a "strike" offense.

  • Receiving Stolen Property Under Penal Code section 496

Under Penal Code section 496 PC, it is a crime to buy, receive, conceal, sell, withold, or possess proeprty that you know is stolen.   You cannot be charged with both receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496 PC and grand theft auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1) because the law generallly does not allow a a defendant to be convicted of both receiving stolen property and stealing the property.  However, you may be found guilty of joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851 and receipt of stolen property if, for example, you receive or a buy a vehicle that you knew was stolen and then drive the vehicle for any period of time.

For example, Jason buys from his neighbor a Honda under fair market value.  Jason knows that the Honda was stolen.  Two days after purchasing the Honda, Jason is caught by the police while driving the vehicle.  Jason received stolen property, and used the properpty with the intent to deprive its owner of any period of time.  Therefore, Jason can be charged with receipt of stolen property under Penal Code section 496 and joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851

HOW THE LOS ANGELES CRIMINAL ATTORNEYS CAN HELP YOU

Actual Case:  In People v. S.H. (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. SA088453), Mr. H was charged with grand theft auto under Vehicle Code section 10851.  Mr. H rented a car from Hertz Rental for a period of two weeks.  When the two-week rental period was over, Mr. H did not return the car to Hertz.  Instead, he gave the car to his girlfriend, who then drove the car to Arizona and disappeared with it.   Mr. H had made incriminating statements to independent witnesses suggesting that, when he gave the car to his girlfriend, he knew that she was not going to return the car to him for a long period of time.  In the beginning of the case, the prosecution wanted 2 years of state prison for Mr. H as well as full restitution for the total value of the vehicle (the vehicle at the time was valued at $38,000.00.)  Through meticulous and relentless lawyering, Negin convinced the prosecution to agree to the following: reduction of the charge to joyriding under Vehicle Code section 10851, probation and no jail time, and community service in lieu of the requirement to pay restitution for the value of the car.

Our strategy: As in Mr. H’s case above, Negin does not accept a prosecutor’s first offer or initial take on the case.  She will painstakingly work the case from any and all angles until the prosecution has reason to agree to a lower charge and reduced punishment. 

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