Penal Code 487(d)(1) addresses Grand Theft Auto, a type of grand theft crime. The District Attorney will prosecute any individual who takes another person’s vehicle without his/her consent to deprive the valid owner of the car under this statute. You risk facing misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted.

Grand theft auto charges are consequential if convicted. However, with the right assistance, you can fight them. Read on to better understand grand theft auto and the legal defenses you can assert. Get in touch with the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney to find out more.  

Grand Theft Auto (GTA) Under California Law

You will face grand theft auto charges under Penal Code 487(d)(1) for taking another person’s vehicle valued at $950 or more without his/her permission and with the intention of depriving the owner of the car. This offense is also referred to as auto theft.

Vehicle theft can result in two charges:

  • Grand theft auto, which is considered a form of grand theft, a crime under PC 487, and
  • Joyriding, which is illegally taking or driving another person’s vehicle — This crime is punishable under Vehicle Code 10851. 

Prosecutors will choose between the two crimes based on the length of time you deprived or wanted to deprive the owner of the car. A shorter time is likely to result in joyriding charges. If you intend to keep the vehicle for an extended period or permanently, you will face grand theft auto charges.

Some examples of actions that result in prosecution under PC 487(d)(1) include:

  • Stealing a vehicle and selling it to another individual
  • Stealing a vehicle to sell it for parts. Even if you decide to abandon the car before selling it, PC 487(d)(1) holds you legally liable. Prosecutors consider your original intent of stealing the vehicle permanently.
  • Stealing a car as a gateway vehicle from a crime scene

In contrast, here is an example of an action that would result in joyriding charges.

  • An individual takes a neighbor's car without his/her permission to drive around the neighborhood and then returns it.

Elements Prosecutors Must Prove

The law places the burden of proof of criminal cases on the prosecution. In a grand theft case, prosecutors must prove the following elements to secure a guilty verdict from the jury.

  • The defendant took a car owned by another
  • The car was valued at $950 or more
  • The defendant did not have permission from the vehicle’s owner to take the car
  • The defendant intended to:
  1. Permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, or
  2. Take the car away from the owner for a long enough period to deprive the owner of a substantial value of enjoyment of the vehicle.
  • The defendant moved the vehicle through a distance and kept it for some time. Short distances and brief periods are sufficient to find you guilty of grand theft auto.   

The $950 value under PC 487(d)(1) is deliberate. It enables the criminal justice system to punish offenders who steal popular vehicles since GTA is often attributed to stealing high-end cars.

Prosecutors aggressively pursue convictions for grand theft auto charges, an approach in response to the auto theft cases that have risen by 11% in 2020. This rise accounted for $7.4 billion in lost vehicles.    

The above mentioned elements address grand theft auto by larceny, a common form of grand theft auto. You can also face grand theft auto charges if you take another person’s vehicle through the following means:

  • Using embezzlement to take another person’s vehicle — You employ embezzlement when you use a position of trust to take another person’s car
  • Employing false pretenses to persuade the vehicle’s owner to transfer ownership to you
  • Tricking the owner to letting you take possession of the car

Joyriding Under the Law

Vehicle Code 10851 requires the prosecution to prove the following for you to be found guilty of joyriding.

  • You took or drove another individual’s vehicle without his/her consent
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle for some time when you took the car.

It is important to note a critical difference between grand theft auto and joyriding.

Under PC 487(d)(1), you can be found guilty if you took the vehicle without the owner’s consent or with permission obtained through fraud, trickery, or false pretenses. Unlike GTA, the jury will not find you guilty of joyriding if you had the owner’s consent, even if you obtained it through fraud, trickery, or false pretenses.  

Penalties if Convicted of Grand Theft Auto

Grand theft auto is one category of grand theft. The penalties imposed when convicted are similar to those outlined under PC 487 when convicted of grand theft. 

Prosecutors can charge you with a misdemeanor or felony violation depending on the Facts of the case and your criminal past. In Los Angeles, the District Attorney’s office pursues felony charges for grand theft auto crimes. 

Felony convictions result in:

  • 16 months, two or three years in jail
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both

If you have a prior conviction for auto theft, the judge will enhance your penalties per Penal Code 666.5. Under the statute, subsequent offenders’ penalties increase to two, three, or four years. 

Penalty Enhancement for High-Value Vehicles

Theft of high-end cars results in enhanced penalties.

If the vehicle’s value exceeds the $65,000 mark, you will receive an additional one year to your jail sentence. The judge will add two years to your sentence if the car’s value exceeds $200,000.

Joyriding Penalties

Joyriding is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors can pursue misdemeanor or felony charges for the grand theft auto offense. First-time offenders will face misdemeanor charges and receive the following penalties if found guilty:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A fine of up to $5,000 or both

If the court finds you guilty of a felony violation, you could face the following:

  • 16 months, two or three years in jail,
  • A fine of up to $10,000 or both 

Joyriding in a Police Vehicle, Ambulance, or a Disabled Placard Car

Penalties will increase if the vehicle you took was:

  • A distinctively marked firefighting car on an emergency call,
  • An ambulance responding to a distress call, or
  • A vehicle modified to accommodate a disabled individual with a displayed placard or a distinguishing license plate.  

Prosecutors must prove you knew or should have reasonably known that the car was a police vehicle, an ambulance, or a vehicle with a displayed disabled placard.

If found guilty, a conviction leads to the following:

  • Two, three, or four years in jail,
  • A maximum fine of $10,000, or both. 

Penalties Issued If You Have a Prior Joyriding Conviction

Your charges turn into a felony if you have prior convictions for the following:

  • Felony joyriding
  • Felony grand theft auto, or
  • A conviction for stealing cargo valued at more than $950, in violation of Penal Code 487h

You will face felony penalties, namely two, three, or four years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Defenses You Can Assert

You can see that a conviction on grand theft auto charges is consequential. You thus need an ideal defense strategy to challenge the charges. Fortunately, your attorney can assert any of the following defenses, potentially leading to a dismissal or reduction of your charges.

     a) Claim of Right

A claim of right is an actual or good-faith belief that the vehicle belongs to you. Thus, you are not guilty if you own the car or reasonably believe you do, regardless of whether the assumption is correct. Therefore, your taking the car can be explained as you claiming your vehicle or re-claiming a car you believed you owned rather than stealing another person’s car.

This situation is relatively common for couples going through a divorce. Both claim ownership while married and assume the ownership status does not change until the divorce is finalized. However, you could take your partner's car with this assumption, but the vehicle is registered to your spouse. In this case, you have a reasonable belief that the car is shared property, and you have a claim.

     b) Lack of Intent

Intent is critical in a grand theft auto case. Prosecutors must establish your intention to steal the car. The lack of this intent means you are not guilty of grand theft auto. However, this intent is not a requirement for joyriding cases. It, therefore, follows that this defense is only applicable in grand theft auto cases.

Not being guilty of grand theft auto because of the lack of intent to steal does not necessarily mean a dismissal of the case. You can be charged with joyriding, which imposes less harsh penalties. A defense attorney can settle for joyriding charges in a plea bargain agreement to avoid the penalties a GTA conviction imposes.     

     c) You Had the Vehicle Owner’s Consent

An owner’s consent as a defense is only applicable in joyriding cases, not grand theft cases.

However, consent is not a defense if it is based on past permission. That owner’s consent to you taking the car is permission for that specific time.

Further, consent as a defense only works if you used the vehicle within the scope of the owner's go-ahead to use it.   

     d) You Were Falsely Accused

Cases of false accusations are common in grand theft auto and joyriding cases. These accusations mainly involve couples where one permits the other to take the vehicle but takes back the consent after a disagreement and claims the defendant took the car without his/her permission. Other cases involve a group of friends who joyride together. However, some settle on a fall guy whom they accuse of being the perpetrator.

Experienced attorneys piece together the facts of the case and establish the sequence of events that led to your false accusation. Furthermore, they present these facts during the cross-examination of the witnesses. This strategy will show the jury the inconsistencies between their version of events and the facts. 

Offenses Related to Grand Theft Auto

Prosecutors can elect to pursue additional charges or opt to drop auto burglary charges in favor of different but related offenses. Some of these crimes are:

  • Carjacking, an offense under PC 215
  • Burglary, a crime under PC 459
  • Petty theft, a violation of PC 488 and 490.2
  • Receiving stolen property, a crime under PC 496

     a) Carjacking

The D.A. will pursue carjacking charges if you take another individual’s car by inflicting physical force or threatening the alleged victim with bodily harm. Carjacking is a felony offense under Penal Code 215.

A jury will only return a guilty verdict if the following facts are established beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You took possession of the vehicle
  • You took the vehicle from the alleged victim’s immediate presence — Courts consider drivers and passengers as victims in carjacking cases.
  • You used force or fear to take control of the vehicle
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle temporarily or permanently

Penalties Upon Conviction for Carjacking

Penal Code 215 outlines the following felony penalties for individuals convicted of carjacking. However, the penalties increase if the prosecution proves that specific aggravating factors occurred.

The aggravating circumstances considered are:

  • Carjacking in furtherance to gang activity
  • The victim suffering great bodily injury
  • Using a gun during the carjacking incident

Convictions without aggravating circumstances result in the following:

  • Felony probation and up to one year in jail, or
  • Imprisonment of three, five, or nine years and a fine of up to $10,000
  • A strike in your criminal record since carjacking California’s Three Strikes Law classifies carjacking as a violent felony. 

If the Carjacking Incident Was in Furtherance to Gang-Related Activity

If the prosecution proves that you carjacked the victim to benefit or under the direction of a known street gang, you will receive additional penalties under PC 186.22.

This statute enhances the penalties for street gang-related crimes.

A conviction results in an automatic 15-year-to-life prison sentence in addition to the penalties issued for the carjacking conviction.   

If the Victim Sustained Great Bodily Harm

Should another individual, not one of the carjackers, suffer a great bodily injury, you will face an additional three to six years upon conviction in prison per PC 12022.7. You will serve the further sentence consecutively. 

Using a Gun to Carjack Another

Guns pose a significant risk to human life. Thus, the courts give special consideration to carjacking cases that involve the use of a firearm.

The use of guns leads to enhanced penalties outlined under PC 12022.53, known as the “10-20-life use a firearm and you are done” law.

The judge will add ten years to your sentence for using a gun, 20 years for firing the firearm, and 25 years to life for using a gun and a victim suffers a fatal injury, or the surviving victims sustain grave injuries.

     b) Burglary and Auto Burglary

Burglary of a structure or a locked vehicle with the intention of committing petty or grand theft is a crime under Penal Code 459.

Prosecutors must establish the following facts as true to secure a conviction:

  • You entered a locked vehicle — This requires evidence you broke into the car. You are not guilty of burgling a car.
  • You entered a room within a building, a building, or a locked structure
  • You intended to commit theft or a felony at the time of accessing the locked car
  • One of the following facts is true
  1. The property you intended to steal or stole was valued at more than $950
  2. You entered a non-commercial establishment
  3. You entered a commercial establishment but outside business hours.

Note: Intention is key in auto burglary cases. It follows that even if you are not successful in stealing the car, you will face prosecution under PC 459.

You will likely face auto burglary as an additional charge to GTA if you break into the victim’s garage and steal his/her car. Prosecutors will charge you with burglary for entering the garage and grand theft for taking the vehicle.

If you broke into a vehicle to steal it but were unsuccessful, you could only face auto burglary charges. 

Burglary is divided into two categories:

  • First-degree burglary — Burglary of residential premises, including structures attached to the premises
  • Second-degree burglary — Burglary of a business premises and auto-burglary

Penalties Upon Conviction for Burglary

First-degree burglary is a felony punishable by:

  • Two, four, or six years in prison,
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both
  • Formal probation instead of time in prison
  • A strike on your record

Second-degree burglaries are wobbler offenses with lighter sentences. Convictions on misdemeanor violation charges result in:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000 or both
  • Summary probation instead of incarceration

Convictions on felony charges result in:

  • 16 months, two or three years in jail
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both
  • Formal probation instead of incarceration

     c) Receiving Stolen Property

It is a crime to receive stolen property. You will likely face prosecution under Penal Code 496 for receiving, buying, concealing, withholding, or selling a property you know to be obtained through extortion or theft.

PC 496 seeks to punish individuals who receive stolen property. Thus, prosecutors can only prosecute you with grand theft auto or receiving stolen property charges, not both.

However, if you face joyriding charges, it is possible prosecutors will add receiving stolen property to your charge sheet. These charges are likely if you receive or purchase a stolen vehicle and drive it. The prosecution's strategy is to charge you with receiving or purchasing the car in the first place and add a joyriding charge for driving a vehicle you had no consent to drive.

PC 496 requires prosecutors to prove the following:

  • The defendant received, bought, sold, concealed, withheld, or aided in selling the stolen property.
  • The defendant knew that the property was stolen or obtained through extortion, either through theft, robbery, or burglary. 

Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property

PC 496 violations are wobbler offenses. You could be charged with misdemeanor or felony violations.

You will face misdemeanor violation charges if the property value is $950 or less. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you risk facing the following penalties:

  • Up to one year in jail,
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both
  • Misdemeanor probation instead of imprisonment

Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in:

  • Up to three years in prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or both
  • Felony probation instead of imprisonment

     d) Petty Theft

Petty theft charges are likely instead of grand theft auto if the car’s valued at $950 or less. First-time offenders without prior convictions for sex offenses requiring them to register as sex offenders or serious felonies will face petty theft charges. If the defendant has any of the above priors, the D.A. could pursue grand theft auto charges.  

PC 484(a) defines petty theft as a crime involving wrongfully taking or stealing another person’s property valued at $950 or less. Prosecutors must prove the defendant:

  • Took possession of the property owned by another
  • Took it without the owner’s consent
  • Took the property aiming to deprive the owner of their property permanently
  • The defendant moved the property over a distance and kept it for some time

Penalties for Petty Theft

Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense. The crime is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Convictions on grand theft auto charges are consequential. The fines are significant, and the sentences are lengthy, especially if the prosecution adds additional crimes to your charge sheet. These consequences also have a long-term adverse impact on your social and economic life post-conviction.  Getting legal help from experienced attorneys when faced with grand theft auto charges is the right move.

The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team is ready to offer legal assistance. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to schedule a free case evaluation today.