Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu

Auto Theft

Auto theft: Car thief trying to break into a car with a screwdriver.

Auto theft is a serious crime in California, and understanding how this offense is defined and applied is crucial to defending yourself if you find yourself facing charges. In California, auto theft is primarily governed by Vehicle Code 10851, while more severe cases may fall under Penal Code 487 for grand theft auto. Here, we’ll break down these offenses, their elements, potential penalties, possible defenses, and the vital role a criminal defense attorney plays in navigating these charges. If you’ve been arrested and charged with auto theft or other felonies or misdemeanors in San Bernardino County, contact Attorney John D. Lueck to speak with a skilled and experienced Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense lawyer.

Auto Theft Under California Vehicle Code 10851

California Vehicle Code 10851, commonly referred to as “joyriding,” makes it illegal to drive or take someone else’s vehicle without their consent. To secure a conviction under this code, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. Taking or Driving: The defendant took or drove someone else’s vehicle.
  2. Without Consent: The vehicle owner did not give permission for the defendant to take or drive the vehicle.
  3. Intent to Deprive: The defendant intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle for any period of time.

The penalties for violating Vehicle Code 10851 vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Generally, auto theft under this code can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, making it a “wobbler” offense under the law.

  • Misdemeanor Conviction: Up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Felony Conviction: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison, and potentially higher fines.

Factors that might influence the severity of the charge include the value of the vehicle and whether the defendant has prior convictions for similar offenses.

Grand Theft Auto Under California Penal Code 487

Grand theft auto (GTA) is a more serious charge than joyriding, covered under Penal Code 487. This statute deals with the theft of a vehicle valued at more than $950. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must establish:

  1. Ownership and Value: The vehicle belonged to someone else and was worth more than $950.
  2. Taking: The defendant took possession of the vehicle.
  3. Without Consent: The vehicle owner did not consent to the taking.
  4. Intent to Permanently Deprive: The defendant intended to permanently or significantly deprive the owner of their vehicle.

Grand theft auto is typically a felony offense, and the penalties can be severe:

  • State Prison Sentence: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.
  • Fines: Significant fines, often exceeding $10,000.
  • Probation and Restitution: Probation may be granted in some cases, along with an order to pay restitution to the victim.

Defenses Against Auto Theft Charges in California

A skilled criminal defense attorney can employ various defenses to contest auto theft charges. Some common defenses include:

  • Lack of Intent: Demonstrating that the defendant did not intend to permanently or significantly deprive the owner of the vehicle.
  • Owner’s Consent: Providing evidence that the owner consented to the defendant taking or using the vehicle.
  • Mistaken Identity: Arguing that the defendant was not the person who took the vehicle.
  • Lack of Evidence: Challenging the prosecution’s evidence as insufficient to meet the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt).

The Essential Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Facing auto theft charges can be daunting, but a seasoned criminal defense attorney is essential to help you navigate the system, build a strong defense, and negotiate a favorable plea deal or represent you in court. The laws surrounding auto theft are intricate. An attorney can help you understand the charges and potential consequences. Your lawyer can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and develop a robust defense strategy tailored to your case, including working to get the charges dropped and the case dismissed. If appropriate, your attorney can negotiate with prosecutors to reduce charges or secure a more lenient sentence. Finally, an experienced attorney will represent you in court, advocating for your rights and working toward the best possible outcome.

Contact Attorney John D. Lueck to Fight Auto Theft Charges in Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino

Auto theft, whether under Vehicle Code 10851 or Penal Code 487, carries serious penalties in California. Understanding these charges and the legal process is crucial for anyone facing such accusations, and hiring a criminal defense attorney is indispensable in ensuring your rights are protected and in crafting an effective defense strategy. If you or someone you know is facing auto theft charges in San Bernardino County, seeking immediate legal assistance from a knowledgeable attorney like John D. Lueck in Rancho Cucamonga is the first step toward a fair and just resolution. Call 908-484-1963 to schedule a consultation or reach attorney Lueck directly on his cell phone at 909-646-2736.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn