San Diego Grand Theft Auto Lawyer


Most people think of a video game when they hear the term “Grand theft auto,” but in the real world, stealing a car is actually a serious crime. For some, a car is a prized possession. For many, it’s essential to getting to work and taking care of their kids. It’s no surprise that under California law, stealing someone’s vehicle comes with harsh penalties.

If you’ve been charged with grand theft auto, you should call a San Diego grand theft auto lawyer. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will work to reduce the charges, prove your innocence, or minimize the consequences of a conviction. When you’re called to defend yourself in court, it’s a good idea to have a skilled attorney there to speak for you.

What is Grand Theft Auto?

Grand theft auto is a type of grand theft under California Penal Code §487. Grand theft occurs when someone steals:

  • Money, labor, or property valued at more than $950,
  • An automobile, or
  • A firearm.

To be convicted of this offense, the individual must take a car owned by someone else without that person’s permission. The individual must intend to deprive the owner of the car permanently, and the individual must move the car and keep it for a period of time. The distance doesn’t have to be far and the duration doesn’t have to be long.

Many people think of grand theft auto as a physical offense – someone breaks a window and hotwires the car. However, other types of theft such as obtaining a car by false pretenses or embezzlement constitute grand theft auto as well.

Additionally, while the value of property stolen matters for grand theft, the value of the car doesn’t in regard to the elements of the offense. It could be an old car worth a few hundred dollars or a brand new Mercedes – either way it’s grand theft auto. However, the value of the car can matter in regard to penalties upon conviction.

Is it the Same as Joyriding?

Joyriding in California is the theft or unlawful taking of another person’s vehicle, without that person’s consent, with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them of the vehicle, whether or not there was the intention to steal the car. Under California Vehicle Code §10851, joyriding can be when someone takes another person’s expensive sports car with the intention of driving it around the block a few times or it can also be someone who never intends to drive the sports car back to the owner.

Usually, someone who takes a car for a spin without permission but with the intent to return it is charged with joyriding, while someone who takes a vehicle with the intention of not bringing it back will be charged with grand theft auto.

Is it the Same as Carjacking?

Grand theft auto is not the same as carjacking. In fact, carjacking under California law is a much more serious crime as it involves potentially endangering another person’s life. Under California Penal Code §215, carjacking is the taking of someone’s vehicle in that person’s or a passenger’s immediate presence, against that person’s will, by use of force or fear, and with the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the person of the car.

In neither joyriding nor grand theft auto is force or intimidation of other people a factor. Carjacking is a felony, and someone found guilty can go to prison for up to nine years.

Penalties Upon Being Found Guilty of Grand Theft Auto

Depending on how the prosecutor charges the alleged offender, grand theft auto can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in jail. If you’re convicted of a felony, you can spend up to three years in prison.

However, if the value of the vehicle is more than $65,000, another year in prison can be added to any sentence. If the vehicle was worth more than $200,000, two more years in prison can be attached to the sentence. If you have previous convictions for grand theft auto, you can be given a harsher sentence under California’s Three Strikes law.

Defending Yourself in Court

The crime of grand theft auto requires the intent to steal. If you attorney can show you didn’t intend to steal the car, you can’t be found guilty. For instance, if you intended to borrow the car and return it, you didn’t commit grand theft auto. However, you may be found guilty of joyriding.

You can also argue you were given consent by the owner of the car.

A less common defense is that you believed in good faith that the car you took was yours.

Contact a San Diego Grand Theft Auto Lawyer Right Away

There’s no way around it, taking someone’s car can lead to serious consequences, including misdemeanor or felony charges. Whatever the circumstances that led you to drive another person’s car, it’s best to have a theft attorney by your side when you walk into court. A San Diego criminal defense lawyer will know how to break the case down into its essential elements and argue that your actions didn’t amount to each necessary part of the offense.

If you want to learn more about grand theft auto charges and possible defenses, contact Jessica McElfresh at (858) 756-7107.