Grand Theft Auto Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles
Have you been accused of grand theft auto? These cases often give rise to issues that are more complex than simply taking someone else’s car. Defenses may exist that are not apparent to those unfamiliar with the law in California. At CBS Law, we have the experience you want when you are charged with theft, or any criminal offense. Call us for a free consultation.
What is “Grand Theft Auto” in California?
The offense is defined in PC 487(d)(1). That section says that when property taken is an automobile, the charge is “grand theft.” In order to understand what that means, it is necessary to understand the underlying issue of how “theft” is defined in the California Penal Code. PC 424(a) states that theft is the wrongful taking of the property of another, or the fraudulent appropriation of property that has been entrusted to a person. While additional factors may be involved in other circumstances, the essence of the charge is taking possession of an automobile without the consent of the owner of the vehicle or other legal right to take it. That means taking the car, intending specifically to deprive the owner of possession on a temporary or temporary basis. This may also include a situation where you lease a car, or borrow one, and fail to return it as agreed. But no matter the circumstances, the prosecution must prove your intent as an essential element of the case. Finally, note that the term “automobile,” as used in the statute, includes other vehicles such as a bus, motorcycle, truck, etc.
But what if you go over to your neighbor’s property and “borrow” their car without permission, intending only to drive around the neighborhood for relatively short while? This raises the issue of the difference between auto theft and “joyriding.”
Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding
Joyriding is described in VC 10851. Although that term is not used in the statute, it covers what we commonly refer to as joyriding. Here are some examples of situations that may be classified as joyriding, or unauthorized use of a vehicle, as opposed to grand theft auto:
- A college student takes their parents’ car without permission.
- A mechanic uses a customers’ car for personal matters having nothing to do with the issues that caused the owner to drop the car off.
- Someone agrees to lend you their car for the afternoon, but you keep it until the next day.
The statutes are somewhat confusing in that there is no clear line between unauthorized use of a vehicle and theft. In practice, joyriding and theft are distinguished by the fact that grand theft requires intent to permanently – or for a significant period of time – deprive the owner of possession. No such intent is required for a prosecution for joyriding. In some cases, surrounding circumstances will provide the evidence needed to have the charge downgraded or dismissed.
Classification and Penalties for Grand Theft Auto
The first thing to understand about being charged with grand theft auto is that it is a wobbler. Whether the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor could depend upon a number of factors, including the strength of the prosecution’s case; the surrounding circumstances; and the length of time that elapsed before you returned the vehicle, if at all.
Interestingly, unauthorized use, or joyriding, is also a wobbler, although in many cases it will be charged as a misdemeanor, absent aggravating factors (such as prior convictions). Grand theft auto, on the other hand, in practice, is more often charged as a felony.
We should also note that grand theft auto can be charged along with other offenses, including, where the situation warrants, carjacking, robbery, or burglary. These charges will substantially increase the potential sentence in the event of a conviction.
Defenses to a Grand Theft Auto Charge
There are a variety of possible defenses that can be raised in response to a charge of grand theft auto. Some simple examples include the following:
- You had no intent to deprive the owner of possession of the vehicle.
- The automobile allegedly stolen was in fact your property.
- You believed that the vehicle was your property.
- You were authorized by the owner to take the vehicle.
Other defenses may apply depending on the circumstances of the case.
Los Angeles Grand Theft Auto Defense Attorney
As the above information demonstrates, the analysis of a grand theft auto case can be complex, requiring an experienced defense attorney to properly represent you. Questions may arise regarding whether the charge should have been filed, which charge was actually filed, defenses that may apply, as well as the potential penalty (including whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony).
At CBS Law, we have the experience and knowledge required to protect your rights if charged with grand theft auto (or joyriding). Contact us for a free consultation.
Call CBS Law at (213) 800-8005