In a recent high speed chase through the San Fernando Valley, three suspects were sought on car theft charges.  Besides facing criminal charges in Los Angeles for car theft, the three suspects would also be facing charges of felony evading since they led law enforcement on a high speed chase.

Grand theft auto charges in California can be serious and lead to a prison sentence in a California state prison.  However, a seasoned California criminal lawyer may be able to defend car theft criminal charges that will lead to a reduction or a dismissal of a criminal case.


 1.  Grand Theft Auto — California Penal Code section 487(d)(1)

California Penal Code section 487(d)(1) provides that a person may be convicted of felony car theft in California if the prosecution can prove:

  1. An accused took a car owned by another;
  2. The vehicle taken was worth more than $950 (with some exceptions);
  3. The accused did not have permission to take the car;
  4. When the vehicle was taken the accused intended to:

a. Deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently; or

b. Take the vehicle away from the owner for a period of time that would deprive the owner of the vehicle a significant portion of the enjoyment or value of the alleged stolen vehicle; and

5. The vehicle was moved, even if a short distance, and the alleged stolen vehicle was kept for a period of time no matter how short.

Felony grand theft of a vehicle in California can lead to significant penalties, including a state prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years or a high of 3 years, depending on the circumstances of the case and the evidence presented at a sentencing hearing.  In addition, a defendant may have to pay a fine of up to $10,000.00.  There are several elements for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and many experienced criminal attorneys, with proper preparation and investigation, may be able to get what looks like a criminal conviction dismissed or the charges reduced to a joyriding violation instead of grand theft.

Moreover, there may be additional penalties if a criminal defendant is convicted of taking a car worth more than $65,000.00 (1 additional year in state prison – consecutive) and taking a car worth more than $200,000.00 (2 additional years in a California state prison – consecutive).


2.  Joyriding Charges in California — California Vehicle Code section 10851

In many grand theft trials and criminal proceedings, charges can be dropped to a misdemeanor joyriding allegation.  To be convicted of violation California Vehicle Code section 10851, the Government must prove that a defendant:

  1. Drove or took another person’s vehicle without consent;
  2. Intended to deprive the user or owner of the vehicle for a period of time no matter how short.

No matter if your case is filed in Los Angeles, Palmdale, West Covina, Torrance, Pasadena, Fresno or any other city in California, often times the charges will be filed as or reduced to a misdemeanor.  Joyriding charges in violation of the California Vehicle Code are “wobblers” meaning they can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  If convicted of a misdemeanor, a defendant can face up to a 1 year sentence in county jail and up to a $5,000.00 fine.

In addition, if the facts surrounding the joyriding charges are more serious, the charges may be filed as a felony wherein a defendant can face up to 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in California state prison and face a fine of up to $10,000.00.

If facing car theft charges in California, whether it be grand theft, unlawful taking of a vehicle and/or joyriding, one should always consult with a California criminal defense lawyer who can assess all the potential defenses to the charges and facilitate a resolution of the case, which may lead to reduction or dismissal of serious felony charges.