California Vehicle Code Section 10851 determines that a person can be charged with the theft and unlawful taking of a vehicle if the following criteria are met:
- The defendant took or drove a vehicle that doesn’t belong to them.
- The vehicle was taken without the consent of the owner.
- There was an intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently or temporarily.
Although the word“intent”appears in the statute, this code covers situations where the defendant may have known the owner of the vehicle or taken an already stolen vehicle for a “joyride.”
Related Offenses to Auto Theft
When facing charges related to the theft of an automobile, there are many ways that additional charges can be added. Some charges include:
- Carjacking. If the theft occurs with the use of physical force or fear to obtain custody of the vehicle, this charge could be added. If this felony is added, prison time of 3 to 9 years could apply. This is a violent offense, so it also falls under California’s three strikes law.
- Receiving stolen property. Obtaining possession of a vehicle that is stolen falls under California Penal Code 496. Under this code, it is illegal to buy, receive, steal, conceal, or withhold property that does not belong to you. Depending on the severity of the charges, you could be charged with this and not grand theft auto. The two charges cancel each other out, as a person cannot receive stolen property if they are the person who stole it.
- Petty theft. As mentioned, grand theft auto applies to vehicles valued over $950. If the car in question is worth less than that, the charges could be petty theft and not grand theft auto. This carries a penalty of up to 6 months and/or a fine of $1000.
- Burglary. If a person enters a building to illegally obtain possession of a vehicle, they could be charged with burglary, as it is considered entering a dwelling to commit a crime. This is a felony charge that can carry a penalty of 16 months or more.
Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft in California
Both vehicle-related crimes share similar penalties. Referred to as “wobblers,” the severity of the crime will determine if it is prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor as determined by a court. Because both auto theft charges are similar in stature, they are also similar in potential penalties.
If convicted of a misdemeanor, penalties could result in up to a year in jail and $5000 in fines. However, if convicted of a felony charge, county jail or prison sentences of 16 months to three years could result. Prior convictions could result in increased penalties. If convicted of these crimes as felonies more than once, the charges could fall under California’s three-strike law.
In most first-time offense cases of unlawful taking of a vehicle, a person will face misdemeanor charges.
If a car is valued at over $65,000, then charges could be enhanced and include increased fines and/or jail time.
Legal Defense for Auto Theft and Grand Theft Auto
The potential penalties associated with both criminal charges can be very serious. That is why mounting the best legal defense is important. That begins with hiring a trusted attorney from My SoCal Lawyers. When you hire one of our experts, our team gets right to work defending you. Some of the legal strategies that we may use include:
- Lack of intent. This defense is applicable to grand theft auto charges. Because the charges are reliant on proof of intent, establishing a lack thereof will be the starting point for your case.
- Claim of right. A conviction cannot happen if the vehicle is yours. While this may seem obvious, part of this defense includes believing you had a good faith belief that you had a right to the car, even if that belief is later proven untrue.
- Owner’s consent. If you believe you had consent to the vehicle from the owner before taking it, then you cannot be charged with auto theft. However, this defense cannot be used if the consent was granted under false pretenses or was given in the past. Consent does not automatically carry over to future uses.
- False accusations. This defense against many criminal charges could also apply to auto theft. The most common strategy is to factually prove that you were not the one who committed the crime. Others could include proving there was permission, but the owner (such as an ex) took back permission after a fight, but the car was already in your possession.
Auto Theft Attorney FAQs
Q: Can You Sue for Grand Theft Auto?
A: In cases of grand theft auto, the owner of the vehicle could have the right to sue in civil court if there is sustained damage to the vehicle or any consequential punitive damages. If, for example, the crime impedes a person’s ability to work or causes personal injury during the commission of the crime, the accused may be held responsible for lost wages.
Q: What Is the Average Jail Time for Grand Theft Auto?
A: The potential jail time for a person who commits grand theft auto ranges from 6 months to 3 years. The amount of time is determined by whether it is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. It also depends on any enhanced charges that are added in the course of committing the crime.
Q: Is Grand Theft Auto a Serious Crime?
A: Grand theft auto is a serious crime that could result in felony charges. This is significant in California because of its three strikes law. Under this law, if a person is convicted of major felonies three times, they face substantial jail time regardless of the penalty for the third felony committed. Any subsequent charges for grand theft after the first automatically go towards this law.
Q: How Is Grand Theft Auto Proven in Court?
A: In cases of grand theft auto, a prosecutor must prove that:
- The stolen vehicle belonged to someone else
- The vehicle was taken without permission
- The accused intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently or extensively
- The car was moved, no matter the distance
Riverside Grand Theft Auto Lawyers
If you or a loved one is facing criminal auto theft charges, including grand theft auto, it is important to secure the help of a trusted and experienced attorney as soon as possible in the legal process. Start protecting your rights by contacting our team at My SoCal Lawyers. With over 70 years of experience, we know what it takes to defend you against any Riverside theft charges, including auto theft. Contact our offices today and let us help you navigate the complex California legal system.