Car theft rates in California are some of the highest in the country. Certain counties within California have higher rates of car theft than others but, overall, California is a risky place for any car owner. Unfortunately, having a car in California is also necessary for many people; public transportation is limited in some areas and commuting to work is common in urban areas. It is no wonder why some people risk a criminal conviction to steal cars, especially in a tough economy. Car theft, also called grand theft auto, is a criminal theft charge in the state of California. Grand theft auto is one of the classes of theft called grand theft. Grand theft, as opposed to petty theft, occurs when anything with a value exceeding $950 is stolen. Certain protected property, like livestock and agricultural products, have a much lower value threshold for grand theft and some things, including cars and firearms, are always characterized as grand theft, regardless of the value. So, even if the value of the car you steal is less than $950, you can be charged with grand theft auto. Unlike the hit video game with the same name, grand theft auto in real life can result in a criminal conviction, bringing with it a criminal record, jail time and fines and penalties. Theft charges of any kind also can hurt your changes of employment in certain industries. Not surprisingly, grand theft brings with it harsher sentencing than petty theft. Grand theft is punishable by up to one year in jail while petty theft is punishable with up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. The high car theft rates in California mean car theft is heavily prosecuted and so grand theft auto is generally charged as a felony offense, however under certain circumstances it can be charged as a misdemeanor, up to the discretion of the prosecution. Similar to grand theft auto, unlawfully taking someone else's car to drive it or otherwise keep it from the owner's possession, also known as joyriding, is a chargeable offense. If caught unlawfully taking into your possession someone else's car, regardless if you had the intent to steal it, you could face up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5000, under California Vehicle Code section 10851. However, if you had the intent to steal the car, thus taking it into your possession permanently or temporarily until you find another use for it, you will be charged with grand theft auto. For example, if you stole a car and then sold it or sold parts of it, you can be charged with grand theft auto. However, if you took someone's car to joyride around for a while, you would be charged with the unlawful taking of a car, under California Vehicle Code section 10851. This charge can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, like grand theft auto. However if done as a first offense, joyriding is generally charged as a misdemeanor. It can be charged as a felony in light of certain aggravating circumstances. For example, if the vehicle taken for a joyride was an ambulance, fire truck or law enforcement vehicle while being called to, or at, the scene of an emergency, you can face felony joyriding charges. Similarly, you could be charged with a felony joyride if you knowingly took a car made for the use of a disabled person. However, the prosecution must prove you knew it was a car modified for the use of a disabled person. Joyriding in one of these vehicles is a very serious charge. You can face between two and four years in jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both. These two charges of grand theft auto and joyriding are very similar however the difference between the two can be the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor conviction, if none of the special circumstances apply. Felony convictions are treated differently than misdemeanor convictions in so much that they are considered a more serious crime. A felony conviction may render you ineligible for certain employment or assistance opportunities that a misdemeanor would not. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing charges of grand theft auto. Remember, the difference between these two charges is subtle. It is possible you did not have the intent to steal the vehicle, but rather just intended to use it temporarily. In this case, joyriding is the appropriate charge. An experienced attorney will be able to listen to your case facts and advise you on how best to build your defense. The prosecution must prove you had the intent to steal the vehicle, that the owner did not consent to you taking it and that you did not mistake it for your own car.
Are your or a loved one facing charges of grand theft auto in Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area? Visalia criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can best advise you on how to proceed with your case. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, every client gets the respect they deserve. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss strategic options for your fighting your charges.