Grand Theft Auto

According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), approximately 30,000 cars are stolen in the city of Los Angeles 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 contact a lawyer immediately.

In California, grand theft auto can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor regardless of the value of the vehicle, and having a competent defense attorney can make a significant 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 be charged with grand theft auto whether you take the car for personal use, to sell or give to someone else, or to sell it for parts.

Generally, grand theft in criminal law 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 auto theft in the future, 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 for GTA could mean jail time.

Defenses and Punishments for Grand Theft Auto

If you are facing a grand theft auto charge but are able to prove you were unaware that the car you were driving or using was a stolen vehicle, you have a legal defense. A grand theft auto conviction requires that you intended to permanently deprive an owner of his or her vehicle.

There following are available defenses for allegations of vehicle offenses, including grand theft auto:

  • 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

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 the state of 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.

A felony grand theft auto conviction usually comes with a jail term of at least one year, while misdemeanor grand theft auto convictions have a punishment of jail term up to one year. Often, the severity of the crime and your criminal history are considered by prosecutors 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, on the other hand, also requires intent, but the intent need only be to temporarily deprive an owner of his or her 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. The following situations are examples of grand theft auto and joyriding and show how in many cases the difference between grand theft auto and joyriding may not be clear:

  • 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 California Penal Code Section 499(b). This section of the California Penal Code is quite similar to California Vehicle Code Section 10851 and does not repeal or supersede it. Instead, both sections differentiate joyriding from theft. The purpose of the joyriding laws in California is to deter the taking and driving of another’s vehicle, not 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.

Grand Theft Auto vs. Carjacking

Carjacking is a violation of California Penal Code Section 215. Carjacking is different from grand theft auto and joyriding because it requires the taking of another’s vehicle while in the immediate presence of the vehicle’s owner or operator.

Carjacking is always a felony due the perceived danger 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.

As you can see, vehicle offenses in California can be quite complicated and legally nuanced. For the best possible outcome in your case, hire a reputable criminal defense attorney to help you navigate these complex charges.

If you or a loved one is charged with grand theft auto, joyriding, or carjacking, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Do not hesitate to call Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 for a free and confidential consultation about your case or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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