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Grand Theft Auto in California

Did you steal someone else’s vehicle? Or, did you take a vehicle for a joyride, only to drop it off at some random parking lot? Or, perhaps you stole a vehicle and drove it straight to a “chop shop.” In any case, when you steal another’s vehicle in California with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of their property, you can face grand theft auto (GTA) charges under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC, which is a type of grand theft crime.

In California, auto theft can be prosecuted under two different statutes: grand theft auto as mentioned above, or under Vehicle Code 10851 VC, which is also known as “joyriding.”

Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding

What is the difference between the two auto theft laws? Essentially, it comes down to how long the thief intended to keep the car that he or she took. For example, if the thief simply took the car for a joyride and then returned it to the place where they found it, it will likely be prosecuted under Vehicle Code 10851.

If the thief took the vehicle with the intention of never returning it, they would likely be charged with grand theft under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC. So, if you are a mechanic and you took a customer’s car out for the day without their knowledge, you would probably be charged under Vehicle Code 1081 VC.

Some examples of grand theft auto:

  • You stole a car and took it to a chop shop.
  • You stole a car so you could evade the police.
  • You stole a car and drove it across the country and back.
  • You stole a car so you could use it as a getaway vehicle for a bank robbery.

Technically, grand theft auto and joyriding are “wobblers” under California law, which means they can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. In other words, under both statutes, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the case, and whether you have a criminal record history.

In reality, GTA under Penal Code 87(d)(1) PC is typically prosecuted as a felony offense. As a felony, GTA is punishable by 16 months to 3 years in prison. If auto theft is charged as a misdemeanor under Vehicle Code 10851, it’s punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or up to one year in county jail, or by a fine and imprisonment.

Facing auto theft charges in Orange County? Contact our office to schedule a free criminal defense consultation!