Carjacking and Grand Theft Auto Are Not the Same Thing – What is the Legal Difference in California?

Carjacking and Grand Theft Auto Are Not the Same Thing – What is the Legal Difference in California?

Carjacking is always a serious crime, but the difference between it and grand theft auto (GTA) can add up to years in prison. In California, there are several crucial distinctions between the two. Keep reading to learn what they are and contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 for a free legal consultation.

Essential elements that make up the difference

The two main questions that will determine if the charge is grand theft or carjacking are these:

  1. How do you get in the car?
  2. How long do you plan to keep the vehicle?

If you are arrested after stealing a car, a carjacking charge rather than a GTA charge could make the difference between a misdemeanor and a serious felony.

Carjacking is always a felony on the state of California

A conviction for carjacking in California is a felony punishable by up to nine years in state prison. If you used a weapon or wounded someone, you could face greater charges for carjacking. A California prosecution must establish the following to convict you of carjacking: You took control of a motor vehicle from someone else against their consent, with the intent of keeping control of the vehicle.

Maintaining control of a vehicle does not mean that you must utilize it as your own. Instead, all you have to do is intend to keep the victim from driving the way they planned. A carjacking accusation can be filed with a simple instruction to drive left when they wished to turn right. Furthermore, the person from whom you borrow the car does not need to be present in the vehicle. Any use of force or fear against them to seize their car while they are next to it or in close proximity is carjacking.

Grand theft auto can be a felony or a misdemeanor in the state of California

Grand theft auto is a “wobbler” crime in California because a prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony. GTA is usually a crime that carries a sentence of 16 months to two years in state prison. A prosecution must prove the following to prosecute you for GTA:

  • Took another person’s automobile without their consent
  • Intended to keep the car permanently or for an extended period of time
  • The car was valued at least $950

It is not GTA in California if you simply drive someone’s car around the block. This is known as joyriding, and it is a less serious crime.

What’s the difference between carjacking and GTA?

The process you utilized to take the car differs significantly between carjacking and GTA. Carjacking necessitates the vehicle being taken by force or fear, whereas GTA does not.

GTA, not carjacking, is when you break into an unattended car and there is no owner in the immediate proximity. You would commit carjacking by waving a knife or gun and urging the owner to “start the car.” California punishes carjacking more severely than GTA because it is done with force or fear.

A second distinction is the length of time you want to keep the vehicle. While GTA requires you to plan on keeping the automobile for an extended period of time, carjacking can be done in a matter of seconds. Even if you get out at the next red, you have likely committed carjacking if you enter a vehicle, grab a gun, and scream “Drive!” If you have been caught after taking an automobile, it is critical to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney because the difference between the two accusations might mean years in state prison.

Chambers Law Firm can aggressively defend you and battle for your innocence after an arrest for a vehicular crime. To schedule a free consultation, please contact us at 714-760-4088 or

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