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Grand Theft Auto Laws in California – Penal Code 487(d)(1)

Posted by Philip Israels | Aug 27, 2019

Grand theft auto, also known as “GTA”, is defined in California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1), which criminalizes the act of intentionally taking a vehicle belonging to someone else.

In many GTA cases, when someone has been charged with grand theft auto, they will also face an additional charge of “joyriding,” defined in California Vehicle Code Section 10851. However, it will depend on how long you intend to keep possession of the vehicle.

GTA is common throughout Los Angeles County, and prosecutors will aggressively pursue a conviction.  Grand theft auto is a California “wobbler” offense, which means the case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime at the discretion of the prosecutor.  Their decision is typically based of the details and circumstances of the case and the defendant's prior criminal record.

A classic example of GTA includes a situation where somebody steals a vehicle to use it as a getaway car in another crime or when a car is stolen to sell the individual parts from a chop shop.

It's important to remember that an arrest for Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto is far different than a conviction. If you are accused of GTA, you need to contact our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Cron, Israels & Stark to review the details and legal options.

Definition of Grand Theft Auto – Penal Code 487(d)(1)

Grand theft auto under California Penal Code 487(d)(1) involves specific elements of the crime. The prosecutor must be able to prove certain factors – beyond reasonable doubt- to secure a conviction. The elements of the crime for PC 487(d)(1) are listed under CALCRIM 1820: 

  • Defendant took a vehicle belonging to someone else
  • Defendant did not have consent from the owner to take the vehicle
  • The vehicle was valued at $950 or more
  • When the defendant took possession of the vehicle, their intent was either:
  • To permanently deprive the owner of the car, or
  • Take the car long enough to deprive owner substantial portion of the enjoyment, or
  • Defendant moved the vehicle, even a short distance, and kept it for a period of time

It should be noted you could also be charged with stealing a vehicle under grand theft by false pretenses, meaning you tricked the owner into giving you possession of their car.

What are the Penalties? 

As stated, Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto is a California “wobbler” crime, meaning the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor of felony offense. However, it should be noted most GTA cases are filed as a felony crime by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. 

If convicted of misdemeanor GTA, you will be facing up to one year in county jail, fines, and probation.

If convicted of felony GTA, you will be facing 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail, a fine up to $10,000, or both fine and jail.

There is penalty enhancement for high-value vehicles. If the value of the car was $65,000 or more, you could receive an additional year in jail. If the value of the car was $200,000 or more, you could receive an additional two years in jail.

Joyriding under California Vehicle Code 10851 is also a “wobbler” but is typically charged as a misdemeanor crime. If convicted of misdemeanor joyriding, you could face up to one year in the county jail and a fine up to $5,000. If convicted of felony joyriding, you could face 16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail and a fine up to $10,000.

The penalties for joyriding will change if you have a prior conviction for felony joyriding or felony grand theft auto under Penal Code Penal Code 487(d)(1).

What are the Related California Offenses?

Vehicle Code 10851 – Joyriding
Penal Code Section 215 – Carjacking
Penal Code Section 459 – Auto Burglary
Penal Code Section 487 – Grand Theft
Penal Code Section 484(a) – Petty Theft
Penal Code Section 496 – Receiving Stolen Property
Vehicle Code 10801 – Operating a Chop Shop

Defenses for Grand Theft Auto – Penal Code 487(d)(1)

If you are facing allegations of grand theft auto defined under California Penal Code 487(d)(1), our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can develop several defense strategies to obtain the most favorable outcome possible. We need to first closely review all the details as every case is unique. The most common defense includes the following below.

Lack of intent 

As listed in the elements of the crime above, a prosecutor will have to be able to show you had the intent to steal the vehicle. This is a critical factor and often a target point for an experienced criminal defense attorney.

It might be possible in some case to convince the prosecutor they will find it difficult to prove intent – beyond reasonable doubt – and have them reduce your Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto charges to a lesser offense of Vehicle Code 10851, misdemeanor joyriding, which carries significantly less penalties.

Consent from Owner

In certain cases, perhaps we could make an argument you had reasonable belief you had permission from the owner to have possession of their vehicle. Maybe the owner gave you permission, but didn't set an exact time for its return. Maybe there was a breakdown in communication leading to a simple misunderstanding causing you to believe the owner consented, but at no time did you have a specific intent to steal their vehicle.

Ownership Belief

In some situations, perhaps we could make an argument you had a reasonable belief, even if it turned out later to be mistaken, the vehicle belonged to you. This is known as the “claim of right” defense.

Maybe our lawyers could cast some doubt on this important factor and avoid a conviction for Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto or get your charges reduced to a lesser offense. Maybe we can show you had a good faith belief of vehicle ownership and you didn't intend to steal their vehicle. Maybe you thought the vehicle rightfully belonged to you. For example, it was a shared vehicle with another person.

False Accusation

In some grand theft auto cases, perhaps our attorneys could show you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. Maybe you are actually a victim of mistaken identity. Maybe the owner gave you permission to use their car but accused you of stealing it out of anger, revenge, or jealousy. If you have been accused of grand theft auto in violation of California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1), contact our defense attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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