Car Theft, also known as Auto Theft or Vehicle Theft, is the unlawful taking
or driving someone else's car with the intent to deprive the owner
of possession or ownership of the car. In California, Car Theft can be
charged and prosecuted under two different laws:
Unlawful Taking or Driving of Vehicle – Vehicle Code section 10851: It is unlawful for a person to take or drive someone else's car (or
other vehicle) without the owner's consent. When the person does so
and intendeds to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle
for any period of time, the crime is complete. This type of Car Theft
can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The punishment for a misdemeanor
is a maximum of one year in county jail and up to 3 years in state prison
if a felony. The state prison sentence can also be served in Los Angeles
County Jail under the recent California Sentencing Guidelines.
Grand Theft Auto – Penal Code section 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto is charged when someone takes another person's car
without the owner's consent and with the intent to permanently deprive
the owner of the car; in other words, he or she intended to steal it.
Theft of a car is always "Grand Theft Auto" regardless of the
value of the car. Grand Theft Auto is a "wobbler" meaning that
it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor carries a
maximum sentence of one year in county jail. As a felony, the potential
sentence is 16 months to 3 years in state prison. This state prison sentence
can also be served in Los Angeles County Jail under the recent California
The main difference between the two Car Theft laws lies in the intent of
the suspect. If the suspect intended to deprive the owner or possessor
of the car
permanently (not temporarily) then the charge would be Grand Theft Auto. For example,
if the suspect took the car to a chop shop, where the car was disassembled
for individual parts, this would be evidence of the intent to permanently
deprive the owner of the car and Grand Theft Auto would be charged.
If you are facing Car Theft charges, contact an experienced auto theft
defense attorney to learn more about your rights, defenses, and legal options.