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Car Theft In Los Angeles

Car Theft, also known as Auto or Vehicle Theft, is the stealing or unlawful taking or driving someone else's vehicle, either permanently or temporarily and 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 laws:

  • Unlawful Taking or Driving of Vehicle (Joyriding) – California 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. Proving the crime of Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle is usually easier than proving Grand Theft Auto.. The prosecutor has to establish only that a person intentionally or knowingly operated a car or other vehicle for any period of time without the owner's consent. This crime is much easier for prosecutors to prove than Grand Theft Auto because the prosecutor does not have to mess with the whole specific intent issue required in Grand Theft Auto.
  • Grand Theft Auto (also called GTA)– California Penal Code section 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto is charged when someone takes another person's car or vehicle without the owner's consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the car or to take the car for a period of time that would deprive the owner of a significant portion of the value or enjoyment of the car. In other words he or she intended to steal it. This type of theft is usually charged as "Grand Theft Auto" regardless of the value of the car.

The main difference between the two Car Theft laws lies in the intent of the suspect. For example, If Bill went over to his neighbor's house, saw the car keys inside the car and took his neighbor's Corvette for a spin to show off to his friends and then parked the car a few blocks from his neighbor's home, he would likely be charged with Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle (Vehicle Code section 10851). However, if Bill steals the car with the intent of keeping it, selling it or taking it to a chop shop to sell the car parts, he is facing felony Grand Theft Auto, Penal Code section 487(d)(1).

Penalties For Car Theft in Los Angeles

Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle (Vehicle Code 10851) can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. First-time offenders are typically charged with a misdemeanor. The punishment for a misdemeanor is a maximum of one year in county jail and up to 3 years in state prison if charged as a felony. The state prison sentence can be served in the Los Angeles County Jail under the recent California Sentencing Guidelines. Car theft involving an ambulance, police car, or a disabled placard car comes with a two to four year state prison sentence. An additional year is added to the sentence if the person taking or driving the vehicle knew or reasonably should have known that it was one of those types of vehicles. There may be increased penalties for any driver with prior Grand Theft Auto or Joyriding convictions.

Grand Theft Auto is a "wobbler" meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor Grand Theft Auto carries a maximum sentence of one year in county jail. It is rare that Grand Theft Auto be charged as a misdemeanor unless the value of the car is worth less than $950. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office typically charges Grand Theft Auto as a felony. The punishment for a felony ranges from 16 months to 3 years in state prison. This state prison sentence can be served in Los Angeles County Jail under the recent California Sentencing Guidelines.

Our Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You

One of our clients was charged with felony Grand Theft Auto after failing to return a rental car from a rental car company. Our client then loaned the rental car to a friend rather than return the car. His friend was suppose to use the car for a few days and then turn it to the rental agency. Instead the friend drove off with the car and then vanished. The rental agency reported the car stolen and it was eventually recovered near our client's home. A criminal case was filed and we represented our client. Initially, the prosecutor wanted our client to plead guilty and go to state prison and wanted full restitution for the loss of the car. After many court appearances and aggressive and skilled negotiations, we were able to convince the prosecutor to reduce the initial charge to misdemeanor Unauthorized Use and Taking of a Vehicle (Vehicle Code section 10851), informal probation, community service, no jail time and restitution which included restoration of the rental car to its value at the time of the rental rather than the original value of the car.

We achieved this result by showing the prosecutor that our client didn't have the specific intent to steal this car. Our client had no prior criminal history. He was married and gainfully employed. We obtained a statement from the friend who borrowed the car for a few days and was to return it to the rental agency. We also presented a mitigation package to the prosecutor and the judge advocating for the lowest possible sentence.

If you are being investigated or charged with Auto Theft, the attorneys at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners may be the right attorneys for you. They have over 75 years of combined criminal law experience including defending car theft cases in Los Angeles. Call and schedule a meeting with one of the lawyers to discuss the specific facts surrounding your case and learn what they can do for you.