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Grand Theft Auto

Grand theft auto (GTA), the unauthorized taking of a vehicle without the owner's consent, is a serious offense in California, punishable by significant penalties. Under Penal Code 487(d)(1), you face GTA charges only if the value of the stolen vehicle exceeds $950. The offense is considered petty theft if the vehicle's value is less than $950.

The consequences of a GTA conviction can be far-reaching, affecting your employment prospects, driving privileges, and overall reputation. Adding to these consequences, a GTA conviction can result in hefty fines, lengthy imprisonment, and restitution. If you face GTA charges, seeking legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial.

At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we recognize the gravity of GTA charges and the potential consequences you face. We are committed to providing you with the personalized attention and aggressive legal representation you deserve. Contact us today for a confidential consultation, and let us help you navigate the complexities of your GTA case. Together, we can work towards a favorable outcome and minimize the impact of these charges on your life.

The Meaning of California Grand Theft Auto

Grand theft auto (GTA) is a serious crime in California. It is defined as the unauthorized taking or driving of a vehicle belonging to another person without their consent, usually valued above $950. The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to establish your guilt:

  1. You must have taken the vehicle without the owner's permission or knowledge. This means you did not have the owner's consent to take the vehicle explicitly or implicitly.
  2. must have intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle's possession permanently. This means you did not intend to return the vehicle to the owner or allow the owner to regain possession.
  3. The value of the stolen vehicle must be $950 or more. If the vehicle's value is below $950, the offense is considered petty theft, not grand theft auto.

Example: In 2018, John Smith was charged with grand theft auto in California. According to the prosecution, Smith took a vehicle from a parking lot without the owner's permission. Smith allegedly drove the vehicle for several hours before abandoning it nearby. He was later identified by a witness who saw him taking the vehicle.

Smith claimed that he did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. He said that he was intoxicated and took the vehicle because he needed a ride home. However, the prosecution argued that Smith's actions indicated an intent to steal the vehicle, as he abandoned it in a different location and made no attempt to contact the owner. After a trial, Smith was found guilty of grand theft auto.

It is not necessary for you to have physically driven the vehicle to be charged with GTA. Simply taking the vehicle without the owner's permission is sufficient. If the defendant took the vehicle intending to joyride or use it temporarily but abandoned it without returning it to the owner, this can still be considered GTA. However, the prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant intended to sell or use the stolen vehicle for any particular purpose.

The Legal Meaning of California “Joyriding”

In California, the legal term for "joyriding" is "taking or driving a vehicle without consent." This is defined under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, also known as the "joyriding" law. It prohibits someone from driving or taking a vehicle without the owner's permission. The elements of Vehicle Code 10851 are:

  • You took or drove the vehicle without the owner's permission or knowledge.
  • You intended to use the vehicle for your own purposes, even if you did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of its possession. This means that you took or drove the vehicle for your own enjoyment or convenience without regard to the owner's rights.
  • You did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle's possession. This means that the defendant did not intend to keep or sell the vehicle but rather intended to return it to the owner.

In California, the terms "grand theft auto (GTA)" and "unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle" are often used interchangeably, but there is a legal distinction between the two offenses.

California Penal Code 487(d)(1) defines grand theft auto as the unauthorized taking or driving of a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its possession. The value of the stolen vehicle must be $950 or more for the offense to be considered a felony. The offense is considered petty theft if the vehicle's value is below $950.

California Vehicle Code 10851 defines the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle as taking or driving a vehicle without the owner's consent. This offense does not require the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle but rather simply the intent to use the vehicle without permission.

The key difference between GTA and unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle is the intent of the person taking the vehicle. In GTA, the person must intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, while in unlawful taking or driving, the person may simply intend to use the vehicle without permission and then return it.

Possible Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing for GTA (Penal Code 487(D)(1) PC)

California PCs 487(d)(1) and 487 attract similar sentences. Note that GTA (PC 487(d)(1)) is a subcategory under grand theft (PC 487). This makes GTA a wobbler under California law. The prosecution charges you with a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your criminal record and the circumstances surrounding the offense. However, more often than not, GTA suspects face felony charges.

Grand theft auto (GTA) is considered a felony in California when the value of the stolen vehicle exceeds $950. The penalties for felony GTA in California can be severe, including:

  • Serving a 16-month, 2-year, or 3-year jail sentence
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Restitution to the vehicle owner

The court could enhance your sentence if you have a prior vehicle theft conviction. Per PC 666.5, possible sentencing includes serving a 2-, 3-, or 4-year jail sentence.

In California, the penalties for grand theft auto (GTA) are enhanced when the value of the stolen vehicle exceeds $25,000. This means that in addition to the standard felony penalties for GTA, defendants who steal high-value cars may face:

  • An additional two years in jail if the vehicle’s value exceeds $65,000.
  • An additional two years in jail if the vehicle’s value exceeds $200,000.

This enhancement aims to deter the theft of high-value vehicles, which are often more difficult to recover and can cause significant financial hardship for the victims. The enhancement also reflects that stealing a high-value car is often a more sophisticated and planned crime than stealing a less expensive vehicle.

Sentencing for Unlawful Taking Of A Vehicle/ Joyriding

Penalties for unlawful taking of a vehicle, also known as joyriding, vary depending on the jurisdiction. In California, joyriding is a misdemeanor, so the punishment is less severe than GTA. Possible punishments include:

  • Serving up to one year in a county jail.
  • Fines not exceeding $5,000.
  • Probation
  • Reimbursement to the vehicle owner for any damages or losses incurred

If the prosecution charges you with felony joyriding, possible penalties are:

  • Serving a 16-month, 2-year, 3-year jail sentence.
  • Fines not exceeding $10,000.

Penalties for joyriding in an ambulance, police vehicle, or disabled placard vehicle are typically more severe than for joyriding in an ordinary vehicle. This is because these vehicles are considered essential for public safety and/or accommodating individuals with disabilities, and their unauthorized use can pose a significant risk to the community.

Joyriding in an ambulance, police vehicle, or disabled placard vehicle is a felony punishable by:

  • Up to two, three, or four years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

In California, prior felony vehicle theft convictions can significantly enhance the penalties for subsequent offenses, for example:

  • A prior felony joyriding conviction
  • A prior GTA conviction
  • A priori conviction of grand theft

Under California Penal Code 666.5, if an individual has been previously convicted of felony vehicle theft and is subsequently convicted of joyriding, the joyriding offense is considered a felony punishable by:

  • Serving two, three, or four years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

This means that a second or subsequent joyriding offense, even though it would ordinarily be a misdemeanor, is treated as a felony due to the prior felony vehicle theft conviction.

Legal Defenses to Vehicle Theft/Grand Theft Auto Charges

Facing vehicle theft or grand theft auto charges can be a daunting and stressful experience. However, several legal defenses may be available to you, depending on the specific circumstances of your case. Here are some of the most common defenses:

Lack of Intent (for Penal Code 487 PC GTA only)

The defense of "lack of intent" argues that you did not have the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. This means that you did not intend to take the vehicle and keep it for yourself but rather believed they had permission to take it or intended to return it eventually.

There are several scenarios in which the defense of lack of intent may be applicable:

  • Borrowing without Permission. If you believed you had permission to borrow the vehicle from a friend or acquaintance, even though you did not actually have permission, this could constitute a lack of intent.
  • Mistaken Belief of Ownership. If you mistakenly believed the vehicle belonged to you or someone they knew, this could also be considered a lack of intent.
  • Temporary Use. If you took the vehicle with the intention of using it for a short period of time and then returned it, this could be considered a lack of intent. For example, if you take a car to move furniture and then return it to the parking lot, you may have a defense of lack of intent.
  • Intoxication. If you were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident, this could affect your ability to form the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of your vehicle.

 The defense of lack of intent requires you to provide evidence to support your claim that you did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. This evidence could include witness testimony, your statements at the time of the incident, or evidence of your relationship with the vehicle owner.

If a court finds that you lacked the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle, the charges against you may be reduced or dismissed altogether. However, the burden of proof lies with you to establish the defense of lack of intent.

Claim of Right

The claim of right defense is rooted in the notion that you believed you had a legitimate claim to the property in question. The defense challenges the assertion of criminal intent by asserting a genuine, albeit mistaken, belief in ownership or right to possess the vehicle. California law recognizes that an honest belief in a right to property, even if erroneous or unreasonable, can negate the criminal intent necessary for a theft conviction.

For example, Sarah finds a car resembling the one she had recently sold. Due to a paperwork mix-up, Sarah believes there was an error in the sale, and the vehicle rightfully belongs to her. Acting in good faith on this mistaken belief, Sarah takes the vehicle, firmly convinced of her claim to the right to possession.

Individuals may find themselves possessing a vehicle when a genuine but mistaken belief in ownership exists. This could arise from confusion in contractual arrangements, clerical errors, or misunderstandings regarding the transfer of ownership. The claim of right defense seeks to recognize and account for these genuine, albeit misguided, beliefs.

Owner’s Consent

The defense of "consent" argues that the defendant had the owner's permission to take the vehicle. This means that the vehicle's owner either explicitly or implicitly granted the defendant permission to use the vehicle.

With explicit consent, the vehicle owner directly gives the defendant permission to take the vehicle. For example, if the owner hands the defendant the keys to the vehicle and says, "Take my car to the store," this would be considered explicit consent.

On the other hand, implicit consent occurs when the owner of the vehicle indirectly gives the defendant permission to take the vehicle. For example, if the defendant has a history of borrowing the owner's vehicle without permission and the owner has never objected, this could be considered implicit consent.

You must provide evidence that the vehicle's owner consented to take the vehicle to win your case. However, the prosecution may challenge the consent defense by arguing that the consent was not genuine, was obtained through coercion or deception, or was invalid because it was given by someone who did not have the authority to give it.

Lack of Corroborating Evidence

the defense of "lack of corroborating evidence" argues that the prosecution's case lacks sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove that the defendant committed the crime. This means that even if there is some evidence suggesting that the defendant may have been involved in the crime, there is not enough evidence to establish their guilt beyond a mere shadow of a doubt.

Corroborating evidence is any evidence that supports the prosecution's case and tends to prove the defendant's guilt. This evidence can come in many forms, including physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, and circumstantial evidence.

The burden of proof lies with the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution's case lacks sufficient corroborating evidence, the defense can argue that the defendant's guilt has not been proven to the required standard. Your lawyer could do the following to assert the lack of corroborating evidence defense:

  • Highlighting inconsistencies or weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence
  • Challenging the credibility of eyewitnesses
  • Presenting alternative explanations for the evidence

 False Accusations

The defense of false accusations involves challenging the veracity and motivation behind the allegations. The defense asserts that the accused is a victim of untrue or malicious claims. False accusations can stem from various sources, including mistaken identity, intentional fabrication, or misinterpretation of events.

Legal strategies under this defense may involve scrutinizing witness testimonies, establishing alibis, presenting evidence of character and reputation, and exposing inconsistencies in the prosecution's narrative.

In GTA charges, false accusations can significantly impact the accused, tarnishing their reputation and subjecting them to legal consequences for a crime they did not commit. Also, false accusations can arise from misunderstandings, miscommunications, or even intentional efforts to harm the accused.

Grand Theft Auto/Joyriding and Related Offenses

In addition to GTA, several related offenses involve the unauthorized taking of a vehicle, each with its own set of elements and penalties. They include:

Penal Code 459, Burglary And Auto Burglary

Burglary is a serious crime involving entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft. Penal Code 459 defines burglary in California as encompassing both residential and commercial burglaries and auto burglaries.

Elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are:

  • You entered a structure, defined as any enclosed space, such as a building, dwelling, room, or vehicle.
  • You entered the structure with the specific intent to commit a felony or theft inside.
  • You entered either by breaking a window, door or other entry point or by entering without permission and using subterfuge or trickery.

If found guilty of California burglary, possible punishment includes:

  • Fines not exceeding $10,000.
  • Serving time in prison for not more than six years.

Auto burglary, a specific type of burglary, involves entering a vehicle with the intent to commit a felony or theft. To establish auto burglary, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  • You entered a motor vehicle, whether it was locked or unlocked.
  • You entered the vehicle with the specific intent to commit a felony or theft inside.
  • You entered either by breaking a window, door or other entry point or by entering without permission and using subterfuge or trickery.

Auto burglary is also a felony in California, punishable by:

  • Up to three years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000

Penal Code 215, Carjacking

You commit carjacking when you forcibly take a motor vehicle from a person in their possession or immediate vicinity. In California, Penal Code 215 punishes the crime. Carjacking is considered a felony due to the inherent danger it poses to the victims.

The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to establish the crime of carjacking:

  • You took a motor vehicle, defined as any self-propelled vehicle used for transportation.
  • You took the motor vehicle from the person in their possession or immediate vicinity by force or fear. This means you used physical force or threatened to use physical force or violence to take the vehicle.
  • You took the motor vehicle with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of it.

If the court finds you guilty, possible punishments include:

  • Up to nine years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

If the carjacking involves the use of a firearm or other deadly weapon, the penalties increase significantly. The defendant may face:

  • Imprisonment: Up to life in state prison without the possibility of parole
  • Up to $10,000

Penal Code 496, Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving stolen property is a crime that involves knowingly buying, receiving, concealing, or aiding in the selling or withholding of property that has been stolen or obtained by theft or extortion. This offense encompasses a broad range of conduct, from purchasing stolen goods to simply hiding them for the thief.

Before the judge can convict you, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • You knew that the property you bought, received, concealed, or aided in selling was stolen or obtained by theft or extortion. This means you must have had actual knowledge or constructive knowledge of the property's stolen status.
  • You either bought, received, concealed, or aided in selling the stolen property. This encompasses many actions, from purchasing stolen goods to simply hiding them for the thief.
  • You had the specific intent to receive the stolen property, not merely to possess it. This means they must have intended to benefit from the stolen property or assist the thief in concealing or disposing of it.

Receiving stolen property is a "wobbler" in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the stolen property and the defendant's criminal history.

If the value of the stolen property is less than $950, the offense is considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $1,000. If the value of the stolen property is $950 or more, or if the defendant has a prior felony conviction, the offense is considered a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Penal Codes 488 and 490.2, Petty Theft

Petty theft is a crime involving the theft of property valued at less than $950 in California. It is a less serious offense compared to grand theft, which involves the theft of property valued at $950 or more. Elements of this offense are:

  • You took property that belonged to another person without their consent. You must have moved the property from its original location without permission.
  • The value of the stolen property must be less than $950. If the property's value is $950 or more, the offense is considered grand theft, not petty theft.
  • You intended to permanently deprive the owner of the stolen property. This means they must have intended to keep the property for themselves and not return it to the owner.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • Up to $1,000

If the petty theft involves certain special circumstances, the penalties may be enhanced by one year. These include taking a firearm or other dangerous weapon or a vehicle. Another special circumstance is having two or more prior petty theft convictions within seven years.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

Grand theft auto (GTA), the unauthorized taking of a motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its possession, is a serious crime in California. The consequences of a GTA conviction can be severe, including imprisonment, fines, and a tarnished criminal record.

If you are facing GTA charges, seek legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we possess the expertise and are dedicated to guiding you through the complexities of the legal system and protecting your rights.

Our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys has a proven track record of successfully defending individuals accused of GTA. We will thoroughly assess your case, identify potential defenses, and aggressively represent you in court. Contact us today at 626-689-2277 for a free consultation, and let us help you navigate the justice system.

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