According to the Los Angeles Police Department, approximately 30,000 cars are stolen every year. Given the sheer volume of cars being stolen, the LAPD takes all complaints of car theft very seriously. If you are arrested for grand theft auto, it is imperative that you immediately contact a lawyer.
In California, grand theft auto can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor regardless of the value of the car, and having a competent defense attorney can make a difference in how your case proceeds.
What is the Definition of Grand Theft Auto?
Grand theft auto is a violation of California Penal Code section 487(d)(1). California law describes how this crime occurs when one takes another’s car, without permission, and with no intention of giving it back. You can face a grand theft auto charge whether you take the car for personal use, to sell or give to someone else, or to sell it for parts.
If you face a grand theft auto charge but were unaware that the car you were driving or using was a stolen vehicle, you have a legal defense. Grand theft auto requires that you intended to permanently deprive an owner of his or her vehicle.
What is Grand Theft Auto Crime?
Generally, grand theft means the taking of something valued at over $950. To be charged with grand theft auto (GTA), however, the value of the car might not be taken into consideration. The most popular cars stolen in Los Angeles are older model Honda Civics. They are easy to steal and their parts are still valuable. An older Honda Civic might not sell for more than $950, but in order to deter you from committing future auto theft, you might be charged with GTA anyway. It is important to secure a lawyer who is comfortable arguing for a charge reduction because a felony conviction could mean jail time.
Is Grand Theft Auto a Felony Offense in California?
Grand theft auto is a “wobbler,” a crime that can be categorized as a misdemeanor in some situations, or a felony in others. Generally speaking, in California, grand theft auto is charged as a felony, regardless of the value of the stolen vehicle. If you are charged with a felony you could face jail time, a hefty fine, or both.
Jail Time for Grand Theft Auto
A felony conviction usually comes with a jail term of at least one year, while misdemeanor convictions have a punishment of jail term up to one year. Often, the severity of the crime and your criminal history are considered when determining whether to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor.
Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding
There are a few nuanced differences between grand theft auto and joyriding. The big difference is intent. GTA requires intent to permanently keep a car from its owner. Joyriding also requires intent, but the intent need only be to temporarily deprive an owner of its car.
Additionally, the two statutes that define joyriding specify that the taking of a vehicle is for the purpose of using or operating a vehicle, or driving.
- You take your neighbor’s car to run errands. You have borrowed it in the past, but this time, you did not receive permission because you were planning to return it within the hour. Your neighbor is scared when she doesn’t see her car and calls the police. You could be charged with joyriding or GTA.
- You take your neighbor’s car, without permission, in order to run errands. Halfway through the day, you stop by a friend’s house and hang out for a few hours. You leave the car at your friend’s house to go out and never end up retrieving it. You could be charged with joyriding or GTA because it isn’t clear that you intended to return the car.
- You take your neighbor’s car, without permission, in order to run errands. While out, someone offers you an enormous sum for the car and you take it, not considering whether or not your neighbor would approve. You could be charged with grand theft auto, as the exchange of the car for money automatically indicates that you don’t intend to return the car to your neighbor.
Is Joyriding a Crime?
Joyriding, simply put, is driving another person’s car. Joyriding can be a violation of Penal Code 499(b). This section of the Penal Code is quite similar to Vehicle Code 10851 and does not repeal or supersede it. Instead, they both differentiate from theft. The purpose of the joyriding laws is to deter the taking and driving of another’s vehicle, the purpose isn’t to punish theft.
Joyriding can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In addition to any jail time or fees incurred from being found guilty of joyriding, if you are responsible for any damage to the vehicle, you may also be required to pay restitution to the owner. Restitution is the cost of the car damage, any wages lost by the owner as a result of your actions, and in California, an additional restitution fine.
What about a Carjacking Charge?
Carjacking is a violation of Penal Code section 215. Carjacking is different from joyriding or grand theft auto because it requires the taking of another’s vehicle while in the immediate presence of the owner or operator.
Carjacking is always a felony due the dangerousness of the crime. Carjacking often employs some form of intimidation and can be charged in conjunction with assault, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury or possession of a weapon.
Our Lawyers Can Help You with Your Charges
As you can see, vehicle offenses can be quite complicated and legally nuanced. We are here to help you navigate these complex charges. There are available defenses for these allegations:
- You were driving a car that you didn’t know was stolen.
- You had the permission of the owner.
- You did not intend to steal the vehicle.
If you are charged with grand theft auto, joyriding, or carjacking, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Call the Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at (310) 210-0744 for a free and confidential consultation.