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Auto Theft with a Prior - Penal Code 666.5 PC

Posted by Sam Israels | Nov 24, 2023

California Penal Code 666.5 PC is a sentencing enhancement statute increasing the penalties for repeat auto theft offenses. Simply put, the fines and jail time can be increased under this law if you are convicted of auto theft for a second or subsequent time.

This law is designed to deter repeat grand theft auto offenders by enhancing the penalties for anyone convicted of car theft with a prior offense.

Penal Code 666.5 PC - Auto Theft with a Prior in California
Penal Code 666.5 PC can increase the penalties for repeat offenses of felony vehicle theft.

This law is not a crime by itself; instead, it increases the penalties for other crimes, such as Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC grand theft auto, Vehicle Code 10851 VC joyriding, and Penal Code 496d buying or receiving a stolen vehicle. 

Penal Code 666.5 PC says, “(a) Every person who, having been previously convicted of a felony violation of Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, or felony grand theft involving an automobile in violation of subdivision (d) of Section 487 or former subdivision (3) of Section 487, as that section read prior to being amended by Section 4 of Chapter 1125 of the Statutes of 1993, or felony grand theft involving a motor vehicle, as defined in Section 415 of the Vehicle Code, any trailer, as defined in Section 630 of the Vehicle Code, any special construction equipment, as defined in Section 565 of the Vehicle Code, or any vessel, as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code in violation of former Section 487h, or a felony violation of Section 496d regardless of whether or not the person actually served a prior prison term for those offenses, is subsequently convicted of any of these offenses shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years, or a fine of ($10,000), or both.

(b) For the purposes of this section, the terms “special construction equipment” and “vessel” are limited to motorized vehicles and vessels.

(c) The existence of any fact which would bring a person under subdivision (a) shall be alleged in the information or indictment and either admitted by the defendant in open court or found to be true by the jury trying the issue of guilt or by the court where guilt is established by a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or by trial by the court sitting without a jury.”

What Factors Must Be Proven?

To be convicted of violating Penal Code 666.5, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the crimes, such as the following:

  • You have a prior conviction of felony vehicle theft, such as Vehicle Code 10851 VC joyriding, or Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC grand theft auto; and
  • You committed a new felony vehicle theft offense.

The difference between VC 10851 joyriding and PC 487(d)(1) grand theft auto is how long you kept the vehicle. Joyriding is typically temporary, while grand theft auto usually deprives the car owner permanently.

Auto Theft with a Prior – Quick Facts

There are some essential facts you should know about Penal Code 666.5 PC repeat offenses of auto theft law, such as the following:

  • This statute only applies if you have a prior felony car theft conviction.
  • This law increases penalties if you are convicted of vehicle theft again.
  • The law is supposed to deter repeat offenders and protect the public from vehicle theft's economic consequences.
  • The term “vehicle theft” means to drive or take a vehicle without the owner's permission or consent.
  • The “intent to deprive” of possession means temporarily or permanently.
  • Both "joyriding" and “grand theft auto” qualify for enhanced penalties.
  • You don't have to commit the same felony auto theft offense twice.
  • If a prior auto theft offense was a misdemeanor, it's a lesser enhancement.
  • This sentencing enhancement applies even if you didn't serve prison time for your prior offense.
  • If convicted of grand theft auto the first time and placed on probation, the enhancement would still apply for a subsequent conviction.

What Are the Related Laws?

California has several laws that are related to Penal Code 666.5 PC auto theft with a prior, such as the following:

What Are the Penalties?

If you're convicted of a felony auto theft crime, you face up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Penal Code 666.5 Is a sentencing enhancement and could include the following penalties:

  • A felony conviction could result in two, three, or four years in state prison, as opposed to 16 months, two years, or three years.
  • You could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
  • The court might order you to pay restitution to the victim for any damages or losses suffered.

Notably, this enhanced sentence is not mandatory. The judge has the discretion to impose formal probation rather than prison time.

What Are the Defenses?

Our California criminal defense lawyers could use different strategies to challenge alleged violations defined under 666.5 PC, as discussed below.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys

Maybe we can challenge the prior conviction. Perhaps the prior conviction was not a felony auto theft-related conviction. Maybe the preceding conviction was expunged or sealed?

Maybe we can argue that there was no intent to commit theft. Perhaps we make a reasonable argument you believed you had the owner's consent to take the car or that you did not know the vehicle you were driving was stolen.

Maybe we can negotiate for reduced charges or a case dismissal. Perhaps we can reduce the case to a misdemeanor, and you no longer qualify for the enhanced penalty under PC 666.5.

Maybe we can negotiate prefiling with the prosecutor to persuade them not to file formal criminal charges (DA reject). You can contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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