If you steal another person's vehicle intending to keep the vehicle permanently or for a significant period, you may face grand theft auto charges. The California Penal Code 487(d) (1) PC outlines the crime of grand theft auto. The law is very strict in handling auto theft cases, and this has led to a decrease in auto thefts in America. The crime of grand theft auto attracts hefty penalties under California law. California Criminal Lawyer Group is committed to helping persons facing grand theft auto charges to come up with legal defenses.
Overview of Grand Theft Auto under California Law
The crime of grand theft auto has several elements. When accusing your grand theft auto (GTA), the prosecutor has to prove these elements to show that you are guilty. According to California Penal Code 487 (d) (1), the prosecutor has to prove that you stole a vehicle that belongs to another person. The prosecutor also has to prove that the vehicle, which you stole, had a value exceeding $950. It must be evident that the owner was not aware and had not allowed you to take the vehicle. Your motive for taking the vehicle also matters a lot. The prosecutor has to prove that at the time you stole the vehicle, you intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently. It must be evident that you intended to keep away the vehicle from the rightful owner for a significant period making the owner feel deprived of the worth or value of the vehicle and the ability to enjoy the vehicle.
For you to face grand theft auto charges, it must be evident that you moved the vehicle for a certain distance, even if it was just a short distance. It must also be evident that you kept the stolen vehicle for a specific duration, even if the duration was brief.
When most people hear about grand theft auto in California, they mainly think about the theft of expensive luxury vehicles. However, luxury vehicles are not always the target. For example, in California, the humble Honda Accord is the main target for thieves. There is an active market for spare parts for this vehicle, and this makes it is a hot cake for thieves.
The elements of grand theft auto, according to California law, make the legal definition of grand theft auto. It is important to note that you can commit grand theft auto through other means. For instance, if you use false pretense to convince another person to give you control or ownership of their vehicle, you may face grand theft auto charges. You may also face grand theft auto charges if you use a trick to convince or persuade another person to allow you to take possession of their vehicle. You may also use embezzlement to possess or control another person's vehicle. In the case of embezzlement, you abuse the trust given to you by another person, and you take away his or her vehicle.
Punishment for Grand Theft Auto
The crime of grand theft auto under falls under the crime of California grand theft outlined according to penal Code 487 PC. Crime, according to penal Code 487(d) (1) PC, attracts the same punishment as a crime, according to penal Code 487 PC. Grand theft auto is a wobbler offense under California law, and the prosecutor may choose to charge you with misdemeanor or felony charges. When deciding whether to assign misdemeanor or felony charges, the prosecutor may consider the circumstances surrounding your case or the facts of your case. The prosecutor may also consider your criminal history. In most cases, prosecutors charge the crime of grand theft auto as a felony under California law.
If you commit a felony grand theft auto, the punishment may include imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may vary from sixteen months, two years, or three years depending on the seriousness of the offense. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000. At times, you may pay the fine and still serve an imprisonment term.
Penalty enhancements for grand theft auto may apply if you steal an expensive or high-value vehicle. If the vehicle is stolen is worth a lot of money, you may serve more extended imprisonment. For instance, if the vehicle was worth more than $65,000, you will serve an additional one-year imprisonment. If the vehicle was worth more than $200,000, you would serve and additional two years imprisonment.
If you did not intend to steal a vehicle and deny/deprive the owner of its use for a long time, you might face charges for joyriding instead of GTA. The elements of joyriding include taking another person's vehicle without their consent. At the time of taking the car, you must have intended to deny/deprive the owner of the usage of the vehicle for any period. You might face joyriding charges even if you intend to keep the vehicle for one hour or less.
In the case of grand theft auto, you may face charges even if you had the vehicle owner's consent to take the vehicle as long as you obtained the permission through deceit, fraud, or trick. In the case of joyriding outlined under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, as long as you had the permission of the vehicle's owner, you cannot face charges. You might not face joyriding charges even if you used a trick and deceit to gain the consent of the vehicle owner to take his/her vehicle.
The crime of unlawful taking of a vehicle or joyriding is a wobbler offense under California law, and the prosecutor may decide to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. It is important to note that for first time offenders, the crime of joyriding attracts misdemeanor charges. This is distinct from the crime of grand theft auto, where the defendant may face felony charges even for a first-time offense.
For misdemeanor crime of joyriding, the court may require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $5,000. You may also have to serve jail time that does not exceed one year in county jail. If the prosecutor charges the crime of joyriding as a felony, you will face enhanced charges. The charges may include imprisonment varying from sixteen months, two years, or three years. You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.
You may face distinct penalties if you joyride and ambulance, a disabled person's car, or a police vehicle. You would face enhanced punishment if the vehicle you unlawfully took was an ambulance, which was serving an emergency duty calls. You will also face increased charges if you take a marked police vehicle or a vehicle belonging to firefighters, which was on an emergency duty calls. If you take a vehicle that is modified to be used by a disabled person and has a distinctive placard or license plate, you will face increased penalties. If you joyride any kind of the above-mentioned vehicles, the applicable penalties include imprisonment ranging from two years, three years, or four years in jail. You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000. However, for you to face the enhanced penalties, it must be clear that you were aware that the vehicle you stole fell under the mentioned categories.
If you have prior felony convictions related to vehicle theft, the penalties you face for joyriding will be different. You may face enhanced penalties if you have one or more prior felony convictions on your record for joyriding. You will also face enhanced penalties if you have one or more previous convictions for a felony crime of grand theft auto under the California Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC. You may also face additional charges if you have a previous record of stealing cargo, which is worth above $950 and violating the California Penal Code 487h PC. As long as you have these previous convictions on your record, you will automatically face felony charges for unlawful taking of a vehicle or joyriding. The applicable consequences may include imprisonment, which may vary from two years, three years, or four years. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.
Common Legal Defenses for Grand Theft Auto Charges
The crime of grand theft can attract very severe charges in California. If you seek the counsel and the help of an experienced attorney, the court may reduce your charges or dismiss some of the charges. Some of the common legal defense strategies that an attorney can adopt to defend you include:
You did not have Intent
If you are facing grand theft charges according to penal Code 487(d)(1) PC, you can fight the allegations by outlining that you had no intention of stealing the vehicle. In cases of grand theft auto under California law, Intent is a crucial component of the offense. If you prove that you did not intend to deny/deprive the vehicle owner of the use and the enjoyment of his/her vehicle, the court may reduce your charges. It is important to note that the defense of a lack of Intent may not work in cases involving the joyriding or unlawful taking of a vehicle. In a crime of joyriding, Intent is not a requirement under the law, and it is not an essential component.
Good Faith Belief that the Vehicle Belonged to You
If you successfully prove that the vehicle you were driving belonged to you, you cannot face joyriding or grand theft auto charges. In addition, you cannot face joyriding or grand theft auto charges if you believed that the vehicle you stole belonged to you. You might not face charges even if your good faith belief was incorrect. For instance, you may be undergoing a divorce, and you recently moved out of the house you shared with your partner. One day you feel you desperately need a ride, and you go to your former home and take one vehicle you shared with your partner. At the time of taking the vehicle, you did not know it was in your partner's name. Your partner sues you for grand theft auto. However, you defend yourself by pointing out that the vehicle was shared between the two of you, and since the divorce is not finalized, you had a good faith belief that the vehicle belonged to you as well.
You can fight grand theft charges by stating that you had the vehicle owner's permission or consent to take the vehicle. You cannot face charges for unlawful taking of another person's vehicle or grand theft auto if the owner had allowed you to take the vehicle. However, it is important to note that in the case of grand theft auto, you may face charges even if you had the owner's consent to take the vehicle. You may face charges if it is evident that you had obtained the consent to take the vehicle through trick or fraud. In the case of joyriding or unlawful taking of a vehicle, the owner's consent is an effective defense, even if you had obtained the consent illegally. If you have the legal permission of the owner to use his/her vehicle, you have to use the vehicle within the agreed scope. If you use the vehicle beyond the scope of the agreement/consent of the owner, you may face charges for grand theft auto.
You were Falsely Accused
Just like with many other crimes in California, you may face a false accusation of the crime of grand theft auto. For instance, an intimate partner may have given you consent/permission to use his/her vehicle only to accuse you of grand theft auto or unlawful use after you two get into a fight. You may also have joyride a vehicle as a group/number of friends only for your friends to abandon you, leaving you to face charges for unlawful use of a vehicle. With the help of a competent attorney, you can put together crucial facts and challenge the evidence of the prosecutor. You can prove in court that you are not guilty of grand theft auto but merely a victim of false accusations.
Other Related Offenses
Several crimes are related to the crime of grand theft auto. The prosecutor may charge you with the related crimes alongside grand theft auto charges or instead of grand theft auto charges. Some of the related crimes include:
Auto Burglary or Burglary
The crime of auto burglary entails entering a vehicle with the aim of committing a theft or a felony. On the other hand, the crime of burglary entails entering a house or other establishment with the objective of committing petty theft or felony while inside. If you access another person's garage intending to take or steal their vehicle unlawfully, you may face two charges. First, the prosecutor may charge you with burglary for accessing or entering another person's garage, intending to steal his/her vehicle. The prosecutor may also charge you with grand theft auto charges for stealing another person's vehicle from the garage without the person's consent or permission. If you break into another person's vehicle and steal it, you may face charges from auto burglary for breaking into another person's vehicle. You will also face a charge for grand theft auto for stealing another person's vehicle. Even if you were not successful in stealing the car, you would still face charges for breaking into the vehicle and intending to steal it.
Under California law, the crime of burglary is a serious felony offense. You may serve jail time, which may vary from sixteen months, two years, or three years sentence in county jail. You may also serve imprisonment that does not exceed six years in a California state prison if you commit burglary in an occupied house. You will also face enhanced imprisonment if you commit burglary in an occupied trailer where a person is currently staying.
Under the California Penal Code 215 PC, it is a severe offense to take a vehicle from another person through a means of fear or force. Fear of force means that you inflict physical force on an alleged victim, or you threaten to cause/inflict imminent harm on the victim. You will face carjacking charges irrespective of whether the person in the vehicle is the owner or not. You may still face charges even if the person in the vehicle is a driver or a passenger. The essential element of the crime of carjacking is the use of fear or force to take control of another person's vehicle.
If you take another person's vehicle from him/her directly using either actual physical force or the fear of imminent physical harm, you may face both carjacking charges and grand theft auto charges. The crime of carjacking is a serious felony offense under California law and may attract imprisonment for three, five, or nine years.
It is important to note that the crime of carjacking qualifies as a violent felony under California law. If you commit this crime, you will earn a strike on your record in accordance with the California Three Strikes law. It is important to seek legal counsel when charged with carjacking alongside grand theft charges or instead of grand theft charges.
You may face enhanced penalties for the crime of carjacking if you injure a victim during a carjacking or if you use a vehicle to take a vehicle from its rightful owner. If you commit the carjacking offense for the benefit of a gang, you will face enhanced charges. If you happen to kidnap a person during the carjacking and grand theft auto, you will face enhanced penalties.
If you steal a motor vehicle that is worth less than $950, you will face petty theft charges instead of receiving charges for grand theft auto. All defendants will face these charges, with the exception of defendants who have convictions related to sex offenses requiring them to be registered under the California sex offender's act. If you have a history of severe felony convictions, including murdering a person, raping, molesting a child, and other sexually violent offenses, you may face enhanced penalties.
According to California law, a crime of petty theft attracts misdemeanor charges, and the penalties may include jail time of six months in a California county jail. You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000.
Before the coming to effect of Proposition 47, a voter initiative, all crimes of auto theft qualified as grand theft auto irrespective of the worth or value of the stolen vehicle. However, after the effecting of the proposition, all auto theft crimes involving vehicles of less than $950 value are petty theft crimes. A crime of petty theft attracts misdemeanor charges while the crime of grand theft auto is a felony. Any person who may have to face grand theft auto charges for stealing a vehicle worth less than $950 prior to the passage of the proposition can appeal the judgment.
Receiving Stolen Property
According to California Penal Code 496 PC, it is a crime to steal stolen property. You may face charges if you are aware that a property is stolen, and you go ahead and buy, receive, conceal, sell, or withhold stolen property. According to California law, you cannot face charges for Grand theft auto and receiving stolen property at the same time. You may only face charges for one crime at a time. However, in the case of unlawful taking of a vehicle or joyriding, you may face charges for both crimes simultaneously. If you receive a stolen vehicle, you face charges according to penal Code 496 PC for receiving the vehicle in the first place. You also face joyriding charges for driving the vehicle without the consent of its rightful owner.
Stolen property means that the property may have been acquired through petty theft, California grand theft, or grand theft auto. It is a wobbler offense to receive stolen property, and you may face either a felony or a misdemeanor charge. In most cases, if the value of the stolen property is $950 or less, you may face misdemeanor charges for the offense.
Contact a California Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you are currently facing charges for grand theft auto, California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you come up with the right defense strategy. Our attorneys have a deep understanding of California grand theft auto laws. Contact us at 408-622-0204 and speak to one of our criminal defense attorneys today.