How Does California Law Define Auto Theft?

According to California Penal Code § 487(d)(1), taking another party’s vehicle without their consent is a criminal offense. According to the law, these charges can apply if the car is worth $950 or more, and you intend to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. Auto theft is considered a wobbler offense in California, which means you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony based on the specific details of your case.

What are the Elements of Auto Theft?

The prosecuting attorney can only secure a conviction if they prove the elements of the auto theft offense have been met. Under California Penal Code § 487(d)(1), these elements include:

  • The defendant took a car owned by another party
  • The vehicle was valued at $950 or more
  • The defendant did not have permission from the owner to take the vehicle
  • The defendant intended to deprive the owner of their vehicle permanently or long enough that it would have had a significant impact on their life
  • The defendant moved the car and kept it for any period of time

What Penalties Could You Face for Auto Theft?

The potential criminal penalties associated with an auto theft conviction in California can vary depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony.

Generally, you can expect to face misdemeanor-level charges if you have no prior criminal history, and no one was seriously injured or killed during the crime. However, individuals with previous convictions may face felony-level charges. If anyone was injured or killed during the crime, you could also face felony charges.

The criminal penalties of a felony-level grand theft auto conviction include up to three years in a California county jail and $10,000 in fines. However, if you have prior convictions, your sentence could increase to as much as four years in jail.

You could also face sentencing enhancements if you are convicted of grand theft auto of a high-value vehicle. If the car is worth more than $65,000, you could spend an additional year in county jail or state prison. If the vehicle was worth over $200,000, you could spend an additional two years in a California state prison.

Collateral Penalties Of GTA

There are multiple ways your life as a whole could be influenced by a conviction. For example, felonies remain on your criminal record unless you obtain an expungement.

This means anytime potential employers, landlords, banks, or other parties run your background check, they will see that you have this conviction. This could have a negative impact on your opportunities.

You will also temporarily lose your right to vote, no longer retain the right to possess or own a firearm, and be disqualified from government programs, including federal student aid. You might find yourself in the middle of a child custody battle, have difficulty rebuilding your reputation, or face deportation or citizenship issues.

These are just a few ways your life could be affected if the jury returns a guilty verdict. Take steps to protect yourself and your future. An Oakland auto theft attorney at Morris Law can help you present a compelling defense to dodge a conviction’s fallout.

What Defense Options Do You Have for Auto Theft?

Since the consequences of an auto theft conviction are so severe, you must take steps to clear your name of the allegations against you. To do this, there are multiple ways your theft defense lawyer could approach your case. Some of the top defenses utilized in grand theft auto cases include:

Lack of Intent

You could only be convicted of grand theft auto under California Penal Code § 487(d)(1) if you intended to steal the vehicle. If the prosecutor does not obtain sufficient evidence to prove you had intent, you should not be convicted.

However, if the prosecutor cannot prove intent, they might decide to charge you with a lesser offense, such as joyriding. Your criminal defense lawyer will show the court that the state does not have sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction under the law, so the charges against you can be dismissed altogether.

False Accusations

False accusations are typical in grand theft auto cases. It is not unusual for couples in arguments to give their significant other permission to use their vehicle and then attempt to rescind this permission when they get into a fight.

It is also common for the individual who actually committed a crime to blame someone else to protect themselves from criminal charges. Your lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations against you so we can prove false accusations were made and that the wrong person was identified as the perpetrator of the offense.

Owner’s Consent

If the vehicle owner gave you permission to use or take their car, auto theft charges do not apply. This includes both grand theft auto and joyriding. However, if the owner previously permitted you to use their vehicle in the past, but you did not obtain their consent to use their car at this point in time, auto theft charges might apply. Your attorney will consider the evidence and details of your case to determine whether the owner’s consent is a viable defense for you.

Claim of Right

Another popular defense in auto theft cases is a claim of right. If the vehicle you were driving belongs to you, there is no reason you should be charged with grand theft auto. However, you must show that you had good reason to believe the vehicle belonged to you.

Even if your name is not on the title or the vehicle was not registered to you, you may still have reason to believe the car was yours. If you thought you had a claim of right to the vehicle, auto theft charges might not apply.