Theft cases, particularly car thefts, are quite common in the state of California. They are some of the leading cases we handle at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. Taking another person's property is a serious offense, even for a small amount of time. Auto theft cases are on the rise in the entire country. As a result, state laws have been intensified to curb this vice and ensure that people's properties, including cars, are safe at all times.
A conviction of grand theft auto in California will leave you paying heavily in terms of hefty penalties and time in jail. To avoid this, you need to seek the best legal services you can find. We have a great team of well-trained and experienced criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles. They can take over your case and protect your rights against the violation.
Legal Definition of Grand Theft Auto
Vehicle theft cases in the state of California take two forms: Grand theft auto, and Joyriding. The former is provided under Section 487(d) (1) of the California Penal Code and the latter under Section 10851 of California Vehicle Code. The dissimilarity between these two offenses revolves around the length of time the offender intends to have the vehicle they have stolen. A person who takes another's vehicle and wants to keep it forever or for a considerable period is likely to face charges for Grand Theft Auto. If, on the other hand, you only needed to use the stolen vehicle for a little period, there’s a chance you could face charges for Joyriding.
Here are some instances when car theft charges can surface:
- When a person steals a vehicle to use as a means of escape after committing another offense, then keeping it
- When a person takes a vehicle intending to use or sell its parts
From Section 487(d)(1) of California statutes, Grand Theft Auto, commonly referred to as GTA, is defined as intentionally taking away another person's vehicle. From the legal meaning provided under that section of the law, several elements should be proven for an offender to be convicted of the offense. These elements are:
- That a person took a vehicle that was owned by another
- That the stolen vehicle was valued at more than $950
- That the offender did not have the owner's consent in taking the car
- That when the offender took that vehicle, they intended to:
- Permanently keep it from its owner
- To keep it for a time that is long enough for the owner to lose a significant enjoyment or value of that vehicle
- That the offender moved the vehicle, even for a small distance, and retained it for some time
There are several ways through which a person can commit the crime of Grand Theft Auto. Some of these are:
GTA by larceny: This is the most common form of Grand Theft Auto in California. The offense is committed when a person steals a vehicle, hoping to sell it off for parts. However, after driving the car for a little distance, they develop cold feet. They decide to abandon the vehicle and run away. However, before they could get away, they are arrested by a police officer who was pursuing them.
GTA by pretenses: this happens when a person uses deceit or lies to persuade another person to give up possession of their vehicle
GTA by use of tricks: The offense is committed when a person tricks another to let them take ownership of their vehicle
GTA by embezzlement: This offense is committed when a person abuses their position of dependence or trust to steal another person's vehicle
Differentiating California GTA from California Joyriding
Joyriding is legally defined as illegally taking a car that is owned by another person. This definition is quite similar to Grand Theft Auto, but as mentioned above, the two offenses are somewhat different. Elements of these two crimes are identical, except that with GTS, the offender intends to retain the stolen vehicle for life or for a significant amount of time. A person can be found guilty of Joyriding even if they only intended to possess the stolen car for a few minutes.
Example: Sam meets a new girl on his first day at work. She agrees to go on a date with him. The problem is that Sam's car is quite old and will embarrass him if he is to pick this new girl in it. Sam remembers that his neighbor is out of the country, but his Mercedes is still in his garage. Sam decides to borrow the Mercedes for the evening, to return it as soon as his date is ended.
In this case, Sam is likely to be charged with Joyriding if his neighbor files a police report against him, and not with Grand Theft Auto. The reason is that his intention was only to use the car for a few hours and return it and not to retain the vehicle permanently or for a long time.
Note: You can still be charged with GTA even though you have the car owner's consent to use it. This is in case you got that consent through fraud, tricks, or pretenses. Still, if you had the car owner's consent, you cannot be charged with Joyriding, even though you got their permission through tricks or fraud.
A stolen car is likely to keep its owner stressed for a long time. That is why California law enforcement agencies are doing all they can to solve and prosecute every single case of auto theft they receive. However, there are instances when a person can be accused of grand theft auto when they did not intend to steal a car. A person can also face similar charges eve after getting the owner's consent. That is why you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help fight the charges to a more lenient charge or have the charges dropped.
Penalties for California Grand Theft Auto
California Grand Theft Auto is a type of Grand Theft, provided under Section 487 of the California Penal Code. According to this law, Grand Theft can be defined as the illegal taking of another person's property, when that property's value is at or above $950. For that reason, the same punishments that are faced by Grand theft convicts will be used on anyone that is facing a GTA conviction in the state.
In that case, GTA is a wobbler in the state of California. This is to say that it can be convicted as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the following:
- The circumstances surrounding the offense
- The offender's criminal history
It is worth noting that many prosecutors in California are likely to convict GTA as a felony. If this is the conviction you get, the following are the penalties you are likely to get:
- Sixteen months, two or three years of incarceration
- A fine of not more than $10,000
- Both the fine and imprisonment
- A penalty enhancement in case the offense was committed against a high-value car
If the stolen car was particularly expensive, the offender is likely to receive an extra sentence that should be served consecutively with the prison sentence they get. The additional penalty is given as below:
- One extra year of incarceration if the stolen car's value was at $65,000 or more
- Two additional years of imprisonment if the stolen car's value was at more than $200,000. This might be a rare occurrence, but it is not exceptional. If the stolen car were a Ferrari or a high-end vehicle, this sentence enhancement would occur
Penalties for Illegal Taking of another’s Vehicle
If the prosecutor realizes that he/she does not have sufficient evidence to charge you with grand theft auto, you will face misdemeanor charges for illegal taking of another’s vehicle. As mentioned above, the offense is also called Joyriding and is mainly a misdemeanor, especially for first-time defendants. If you get a misdemeanor conviction, below are some of the maximum sentences you can get:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year
- A fine of not exceeding $5000
Penalties for Unlawful Driving or Taking a Police Vehicle, Ambulance or a Placard Vehicle for the Incapacitated
The case of unlawfully driving or taking the vehicle types mentioned above types will be treated differently from the case of a regular vehicle. Ambulances and police vehicles are usually distinctively marked. An incapacitated person's car will clearly show a different license plate or have a placard indicating so. Illegally driving or taking such vehicles will mean that the defendant did so willingly and with the intent of taking the car away from its regular use, albeit for a small period.
This case will be charged as a felony in California, attracting such penalties as:
- Two, three or four years of incarceration in a county jail
- A fine of not exceeding $10,000
The sentences will only apply if there is proof that the defendant knows or should reasonably have identified the vehicle they were driving or taking as an ambulance, police vehicle, or an incapacitated person's vehicle.
Sentence Enhancement for Offenders with Prior Convictions
If you are facing a second, third or consecutive convictions for either Grand Theft Auto or Joyriding, you may face additional penalties under California Statutes. Here are some of the cases that are likely to get a sentence enhancement:
- A defendant that is encountering one or more previous verdicts for felony Joyriding
- A defendant facing one or more previous sentences for GTA
- A defendant facing one or more previous convictions for Grand Theft of goods valued at $950 or more
If you have a previous conviction of any of the above offenses, you will face a felony conviction for the current case of illegally taking a vehicle. Some of the penalties you are likely to receive include:
- Two, three or four years of imprisonment in a county jail
- A fine of not more than $10,000
What Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Do For You?
Criminal charges for car theft can affect many aspects of your life. No one wants to be associated with someone that is facing theft charges of any kind. Your close associates may stop trusting you, as well as your colleagues and employers. A car theft conviction will not only leave you paying heavily in penalties but also serving time in jail. After that, your relationships will not be the same again.
That is the reason why you need to engage the services of a well-trained and experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney will help you fight the charges to either have them reduced to a more lenient charge or have them dropped altogether. There’s a lot more than your attorney can do to help your case:
- Your attorney will evaluate your charges and the evidence collected against you. This helps him/her understand your situation better to determine the right course of action that is needed to battle the charges. A close evaluation of your case may also give him/her a chance to spot a loophole that they can use to fight the charges you are facing.
- Your attorney will recommend the best defense strategy. From his/her skills and experience, it will be easy for your criminal defense attorney to point out the best approach to use in your case. There is no way to tell how the judge will rule the case. Your attorney will, therefore, discuss strategies that are likely to get your charges dropped and those that are likely to give you back your freedom.
- Your attorney will work with the prosecutor to negotiate a plea bargain. A bargain will be needed if they will be negotiating charges. A competent attorney will know just how well to negotiate your charges to have them reduced. Plea bargains come with lots of options, which your attorney will discuss with you so you can make the final decision.
- Offer support during the most robust period of your life. An experienced attorney already knows how emotionally-draining criminal trials can get. That is why he/she will be there not just as a legal adviser but also as a support when you need it the most. Having someone by your side when your life has taken a sudden turn is one of the most important things.
- Your attorney will file the necessary documents on time. Court procedures are stringent, and a defendant may not be aware of them all. You need to work with an attorney who has our best interests at heart. This way, all the documents will be filed on time, and the trial will go on smoothly.
Possible Legal Defenses for Grand Theft Auto
As mentioned above, the primary role of a criminal defense attorney is to defend you against the charges you are facing. Fortunately, several defense strategies could be used to protect you against the Grand Theft Auto charges. The defense, in this case, will be aimed at either getting the charges dropped or having them reduced to a more lenient charge. Some of the strategies are:
You did not have the intention of stealing the car
The intention to take is one of the primary elements of the crime of Grand Theft Auto. The prosecutor must prove to the court that you had the intent to steal for you to be found guilty of the offense. If you did not have the intention to steal the vehicle, you might not be found guilty of the crime. If this strategy works, your charges could be reduced or dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.
If, for instance, you only intended to use the car for a few hours and then return it to its owner. The prosecutor will have a hard time proving to the court that you intended to keep the car away from its owner permanently or for an extended period. In this case, you can be guilty of Joyriding, which is a more lenient offense than GTA.
You had the car owner's consent
You could be charged with vehicle theft even though you had the owner's permission to use the car. However, you will not be guilty of GTA if you did not use fraud or tricks to get the owner's consent. If your attorney can prove to the court that you had the full permission of the car's owner to take it, the court may drop your charges. However, in case you use pretense, or you tricked the owner into giving you their car, you could be found guilty of GTA.
If, for instance, your neighbor permitted you to use their car for the weekend, without giving you the exact time you should return it. Your neighbor then calls the police on you and accuses you of stealing their car when you did not return the car by Sunday night. The court may not find you guilty of GTA if you can prove that you had his/her permission to use the car for the weekend.
However, if the prosecutor has reason to believe that you did not intend to give the car back, your defense may not work, and you could be convicted with GTA.
You strongly believed that the car belonged to you
You cannot be found guilty of stealing a vehicle that you belong to you. Therefore, if the car is yours or you firmly believed that it was yours, you will not be guilty of GTA even if the belief was mistaken. With that kind of thinking, the court will be convinced that you did not intend to steal the car rather than to reclaim it or claim it as rightfully yours.
Example: In a betting competition, John promises to give Zack his car if Zack helps him win the bet. Being a smart better than John, Zack delivers his end of the bargain. After John emerges the winner, Zack leaves the casino, straight to the parking lot, and drives off in John's car. On realizing what has happened, John calls the police on Zack. In this case, Zack will not be found guilty of GTA because he had a strong belief that John's car belonged to him.
False accusations are always there, especially when it comes to serious criminal offenses like Grand Theft. A person can accuse another of stealing their car out of jealousy, while seeking revenge or even out of malice. Your attorney should be able to prove to the court that you are wrongly accused of vehicle theft, a crime you did not commit any intention of committing. If you were set up, framed or are merely being accused of GTA, your attorney would thoroughly investigate the claims and any evidence against you to prove to the court that you are not guilty as charged.
GTA and Related Offenses
Several criminal offenses in California can be accused together with or in place of Grand Theft Auto offense. Some of these are:
- Joyriding: As mentioned earlier, this is a more mild form of Grand Theft attorney. A person facing charges of GTA will either be convicted of felony GTA, misdemeanor GTA, felony Joyriding, or misdemeanor Joyriding. This depends on the circumstances surrounding the case and their criminal history.
- Auto burglary is covered under California Burglary Laws in Section 459 of the California Penal Code. The offense of auto burglary is defined as entering a vehicle belonging to another person to commit a crime.
- Carjacking as provided under Section 215 of the California Penal Code. The offense occurs when a person uses force, including physical strength to make a car owner surrender their car to them.
Find The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Getting arrested and charged with Grand Theft Auto in California is possible if you have been caught in possession of another person's vehicle. However, you need to fight the charges to avoid spending time in jail, paying hefty penalties, and facing other consequences that are associated with a theft conviction. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has the best team of criminal defense attorneys in place that you can count on for the best defense services. Call us at 310-564-2605 and let us take you through the process.
If you have been arrested in Orange County and need a criminal defense attorney please check out this law firm: Orange County Criminal Lawyer