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How Vehicle Theft Is Charged in California

October 31, 2019

It may be considered a theft-related offense under Prop 47

How Vehicle Theft Is Charged in California

In California, vehicle theft under Vehicle Code 10851 is defined as either taking or driving a vehicle that belongs to another person, without their consent, with the specific intent to deprive the owner of possession of their vehicle, either permanently or temporarily. In other words, vehicle theft involves taking someone else’s vehicle without their permission for the purpose of taking it from them for either a short period of time or forever. This crime is sometimes called joyriding.

Vehicle theft is a wobbler offense, which means that it can be punished as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. If it is charged as a felony, it may lead to up to a year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Felony vehicle theft is punishable by a county jail term of up to three years. However, as a criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles County, CA can explain, if a person takes or drives an ambulance, police vehicle or fire department vehicle, or has one or more prior felony convictions for vehicle theft or grand theft auto, then the penalties increase — to up to four years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Importantly, Proposition 47 — passed in 2014 — made all theft crimes where the stolen property was valued at under $950 misdemeanors. According to the California Supreme Court, this new law does not apply to all vehicle theft offenses. Instead, only charges that related to “taking” a vehicle, instead of “driving” a vehicle, can be classified as theft-based offenses under Prop 47. As a result, if a person has been charged with taking a vehicle valued at $950 or less, then it is a misdemeanor crime. In addition, a person who was previously sentenced for felony vehicle theft for taking a car valued at $950 or less may be able to have their charge reduced and to be resentenced to a lesser crime. A skilled criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles County, CA can work with you to determine if you are eligible for this sentence reduction.

If you have been charged with vehicle theft under VC 10851, there are a number of possible defenses. For example, if you took your partner’s car to the store to get groceries, and you generally have permission to drive their vehicle for these types of errands, that could be a defense to the charge of vehicle theft. Alternatively, if you help to pay for your partner’s vehicle, you may have a claim of right over the vehicle — and so taking it may not qualify as a crime.

It is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles County, CA if you have been charged with vehicle theft, as the laws that apply to this crime are incredibly technical. The difference between misdemeanor and felony vehicle theft is significant, particularly in terms of penalties and long-term consequences. A skilled attorney can work to negotiate a reduction or dismissal of the charges, or defend you at trial if necessary.

At the Chambers Law Firm, we represent Californians who have been charged with a range of criminal offenses. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles County, CA.

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