There are numerous cases of car theft reported in the state of California daily. Among the different classifications of crimes is the crime of grand theft auto. Defendants who find themselves facing these charges will often have one or more counts placed, including stealing, moving of the vehicle, and violence if he or she used any force on a victim.

Additionally, there are different crimes that relate to grand theft auto. Often, a defendant may involve himself or herself in various actions that may subsequently fall under the grand scheme of theft. Therefore, if you or your loved ones face such charges, you require the services of The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. Our team has vast experience in handling criminal defense cases, for charges including grand theft auto. Additionally, we offer professional legal advice to our clients, informing them about the process and what they can expect to undergo once the trial ensues.

What is Grand Theft Auto?

The crime of grand theft auto consists of taking a vehicle that belongs to another person, to deprive the rightful owner of its possession permanently. The definition of the crime is found in section 487 of the California Penal Code. Under this statute, the word vehicle does not restrict the theft to personal cars only. Thus other modes of transport can equally warrant a charge of grand theft auto. They are:

  • Planes
  • Boats
  • Trucks
  • Recreational vehicles (RVs)

The definition of the term theft, according to the California statute, includes the action of taking a thing-in that has a value above $950. In this case, the vehicle without consent. For the crime of theft to suffice, the offender also has to have the requisite intention. In this case, it is to deprive the owner of his/her vehicle permanently. In broad terms, the crime of grand theft covers the theft of vehicles, if all the necessary requirements for the crime of theft suffice.

Elements of The Crime: What the Prosecution Has to Prove

Upon arrest for the crime of grand theft auto, you are accused in court, and your trial process begins. For the prosecutor to prove a solid case against you, he or she has to prove that some actions happened. Upon determining these factors, the prosecutor may successfully lead to your conviction. However, with the help of The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, you can establish strong defenses to help convince the judge of your innocence. The prosecution has to prove that:

  1. The Defendant Was Not the Rightful Owner of the Vehicle

Theft is characterized by taking and moving objects that do not belong to the thief. In proving that the car does not belong to you, the prosecutor may rely on documents that support the claim of ownership of the vehicle. He or she may introduce evidence like the vehicle’s logbook well as receipts of purchase. Additionally, the prosecutor may call on witnesses to take the stand and testify against you. These are people who have seen the owner using the vehicle. Thus, they can attest to his or her ownership.

At the time of stealing the car, therefore, the prosecutor shows that you did not have any valid proof of ownership, nor did you possess the vehicle rightfully. He or she may derive the evidence by the conduct you exhibit. For example, if you appear tense or worried as you drive, it can be assumed that you are not the rightful owner. Such footage is available from the surveillance cameras placed on highways and residential streets.

  1. The Defendant Moved The Car

For the element of theft to suffice, you have to move the object stolen. The proof of movement is possible, regardless of how short that distance is. Thus, if you drive a car for even a very short distance, it is enough to convict you for the crime of grand theft auto. For example, if you move the vehicle from the parking lot into the main road for a short trip, you are guilty of the crime of grand theft auto. Similarly, the prosecutor must show that you possessed the vehicle in question for the time it was reported missing. You may have hidden it in your compound or parked it in a hidden area where the owner is unlikely to look for the stolen car.

  1. The Defendant Did Not Have the Owner’s Permission

Taking someone’s vehicle without his or her consent constitutes the theft of grand theft auto. Permission to access the car is essential because it means that the owner is aware of your possession. Therefore, if you do not notify him or her that you have picked the vehicle, you will qualify for grand theft auto charges. The prosecutor mostly relies on witness statements from the claimant. He or she gives an account of whether or not he/she received notifications on picking the car.

Moreover, when you pick the car from a person who has not expressly disclosed consent, neither has he/she denied it, your defense lawyer can raise the set of unclear facts as a defense. The argument is especially useful if you have a relationship with the claimant. For example, in an employer-employee agreement, you as the employee may use the company vehicle without the employer’s consent. If the owner chooses to report the incident against you, the prosecution must show that you had no approval to operate the car. Additionally, you must have stayed away with the car for a while before being discovered or returning it.

  1. There was Intention to Deprive the Owner of The Car the Use of the Vehicle Permanently

By stealing a car in a grand theft auto crime, you are likely to intend to keep its possession. Additionally, you may decide to conceal any course of action linking you to the car. A prosecutor must show that you wanted to rid the owner of the vehicle based on your activities after the theft, and, therefore, deprive him or her of the car’s use. Sometimes, the deprivation of use does not have to be permanent. Your actions after the grand theft can reveal if you intended ever to return the car or not. A prosecutor had to show the intention of failing to return it, mostly proven by you engaging in further actions.

Thus, if you took part in any further sale of the stolen car, for example, the prosecution’s side must show that you sold it to discard any physical evidence of physical possession. In a case of theft, the person who picks and moves the vehicle only obtains the property and not ownership. Consequently, when the investigating officers find you with another person’s car, they will retrieve it and give it back to the rightful owner. Also, if you cause any damages to the vehicle like leaving scratch marks on it, you have to pay some costs to the owner.

Penalties of The Crime of Grand Theft Auto

Just like most other crimes, grand theft auto is a wobbler crime. The term wobbler means that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances leading to arrest and actions surrounding the theft.

If you face misdemeanor charges, you could receive a sentence of one year in jail or pay a fine issued at the judge’s discretion. When charged with a felony, your sentence may be anywhere from sixteen months to three years in prison. The range of sentencing depends on the nature of the theft. Moreover, the judge may issue a $5,000 fine as an alternative to the sentence, or order both penalties on you if he or she sees it fit.

Sentencing Process: Aggravating Factors that Increase Penalties Issued

The circumstances and actions that the judge will consider when issuing a penalty may work in your favor or to your detriment. However, your defense lawyer will do the best he/she can to ensure that you do not face overwhelming punishment. These are the main aggravating factors considered:

  1. The Value of the Car

The higher the value of the car, the more punishment you are likely to receive for stealing it. The penalties issued are supposed to cover any possible damages caused by the grand theft. Thus, if the vehicle was stolen was worth more than $65,000, the judge will increase your jail sentence by one year to add on to whatever you are to receive. Additionally, if the vehicle you stole was worth more than $200,000, your sentence is enhanced by an additional two years in prison.

In a criminal suit, a defendant faces more punitive than compensatory punishment because he or she is expected to learn from his/her acts of crime. However, the judge has to consider if the defendant is capable of clearing the damages owed in cash. If not, your sentencing penalty increases your jail term. However, a claimant may instigate a different civil suit to further seek monetary compensation from you.

  1. The Mode of Stealing Involved

An accused person may have to use force to obtain the car from the owner. Most grand theft auto suspects are reported to either break into the vehicle, or forcibly remove an owner from the vehicle. Either way, both actions are invasive and unlawful. Therefore, the more violent or forceful means used to access the car, the higher the penalties you may face.

For example, if you used a crude weapon to open the car door or ignited the car by cutting off and reconnecting the wires-because you did not have the car keys, the damages caused inevitably raise the penalties you will face. Moreover, defendants who use violence to remove owners of the vehicle from inside it place themselves in a very disadvantaged position. The eventuality of violent theft is that you may face additional charges of robbery with violence. The charges carry more significant penalties that may result in a lot of years behind bars. Also, the judge may decide to sentence you concurrently for both crimes committed. The system may overwhelm you as the defendant, but your lawyer will work hard to introduce mitigating statements for your case.

  1. Your Previous Criminal Record

As a first time offender, you will have it easier when facing the sentencing and penalties issued, that a suspect with a prior criminal record. For example, repeat offenders will receive a higher penalty that aims at deterring them from any future actions of grand theft. If you have also been previously convicted of any other crime, the judge may hold the records against you and issue a more significant punishment. For example, if you were previously convicted of a fraud crime, it is easy to link it to grand theft, because you could use unconventional means to try and sell the vehicle. Thus, the judge will discover this and increase your penalties.

Sentencing Process: Mitigating Factors in the Crime of Grand Theft Auto

Some actions you decide to take after stealing the vehicle in question will help mitigate the penalties issued by the judge. They often show your remorse or willingness to cooperate with the officers in case of arrest.

  1. Returning the Vehicle to the Owner

After taking and moving the car without the owner’s permission, you may decide to return it for whatever reason. Although the action may not absolve you of the criminal charges you will face, the presiding judge ought to consider the measure. Therefore, acting positively and returning the car can be an act to show remorse on your part. If your lawyer can successfully demonstrate that your intentions changed after the theft, he or she will convince the judge to reduce the penalties you may have otherwise faced.

  1. Assisting Investigation Officers to Retrieve the Vehicle

Upon apprehension by officers, you may have no choice but to cooperate with them and issue them any information that helps them recover the stolen car. Thus, if you willfully engage them and provide the information, it will help alleviate the penalties you face. In most cases, cooperation with the officers applies when they have found overwhelming evidence against you, which is mostly physical. For example, your fingerprints could link you to the object using the object or weapon used to open the car forcibly. Therefore, you are unable to refute the allegations that directly tie you to the crime. Your more comfortable option is to work with the officer, who may be willing to offer plea deals that reduce your charges.

Related Offences to the Crime of Grand Theft Auto

Apart from the crime of grand theft auto, an offender may face several related crimes. They may relate to the original charge directly, or become subsequent to the aggravated actions of initiating the theft. These offenses revolve around the general theft of crime that is the essential requirement for entering any charges against you. They are:

  1. Grand Theft

The crime of grand theft without specializing in automobile theft is very directly related to grand theft auto in that a defendant may steal a vehicle that has more valuables inside. According to section 487 of the California Penal Code, grand theft involves the unlawful taking and moving of items worth $950 or more. Any theft of goods under $950 falls under the crime of petty theft. The items stolen could be anything ranging from jewelry, electronics, and home appliances. Therefore, if any of these high priced items are still in the vehicle at the time that the offender steals it, he or she will also face grand theft charges.

Grand theft is a wobbler crime that means it can attract misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the facts of the case. As a felony, you could face sixteen months to three years in jail, with additional fines imposed as the judge sees fit. Similar to the sentencing process in grand theft auto, the circumstances around committing the crime are considered and will determine the level of severity of the punishment you will face.

  1. Carjacking

The offense is created in section 215(a) of the Penal Code. It involves taking a vehicle that belongs to someone else by use of violent force or threats during this force. Normally, the offender will stop the vehicle on the road and order that the driver and passengers get out. Failure to do so often prompts the offender to unleash the use of violence that may include weapons like guns or knives.

It does not matter whether the offender used the force or threats on the driver or the passengers. What counts in establishing the charge of carjacking is that the offender stopped the vehicle suddenly, and evicted the victims. The crime attracts several high penalties that may be significantly more than those imposed on defendants facing grand theft auto charges. Here, you could face three to nine years in prison, especially if the force used caused injury to the victims.

  1. Joyriding

The office is characterized by taking and driving a vehicle without the prior consent of the owner. The offender may have the intention of returning the car; nevertheless, picking and driving it without authorization creates the offense charged. Joyriding is familiar, especially with young people who may pick their parents’ vehicle and take it out for a ride without permission.

However, in more severe cases where you have no relationship with the claimant, merely driving the car even for fun, can prompt joyriding charges. The missing factor is always the consent that needs to be ascertained by a vehicle owner. Section 10851 of the California Vehicle Code provides for the offense and gives the available penalties that a judge will issue. Usually, joyriding is not considered a serious theft crime, mainly because the offender intends to return it after use. Therefore, it attracts misdemeanor charges for first-time offenders. A convicted person will receive a one-year jail sentence or a $5000 fine. Additionally, both penalties may be imposed on the offender if the circumstances of the case warrant extra punishment.

Defenses to the Crime of Grand Theft Auto

Your criminal defense lawyer works hard to ensure that you have sufficient defenses to help your case, once you get arrested and face charges. As a defendant, you have the right to present your defenses as provided for in the due process of law. The process also requires that the court should not hold any assumptions of guilt towards you. Therefore, you remain innocent until the prosecutor successfully proves guilty intention. These are some of the defenses that your defense attorney may present on your behalf:

  1. Mistake of Person

When you are unlawfully arrested for the crime of grand theft auto, you could raise the defense of mistaken identity. Most arrests made by police involve people who were innocently close to the scene of the crime. They may not even have any direct motive or intention to engage in the crime. For example, the actual offender may intentionally park the vehicle in your compound once he or she becomes aware of the threat of getting arrested. Thus, you, as the unsuspecting person may find officers waiting to arrest you for interrogation. Frequently, denial leads to further probes from the investigation officers working for the prosecutor and may, therefore, warrant them to enter the charge against you even if you are innocent.

Your criminal defense lawyer endeavors to show that the facts presented against you create no direct link to the actual theft of the car in question. Moreover, the defense of alibi, coupled with mistaken identity, will strengthen the overall presentation and convince the judge of your innocence in the matter. The term alibi is used where the accused was in an entirely different location with different people who can testify to affirm it. By logic, you cannot be in two places at once. Thus, sufficient evidence indicating your actual location will discredit the prosecutor’s allegations.

  1. Absence of Intent

Once the charge of grand theft auto is imposed on you, the defense of lack of unlawful intention significantly helps refute the prosecutor’s claims. Specific to the crime, the convicting intent is the failure to return the car to the owner, therefore, depriving him or her of its use.  Consequently, your lawyer should show that you lacked motive and would have returned the vehicle before any arrests that altered the course of action.

For example, if you use another person’s car to take someone to hospital because of an emergency, your lawyer can raise the defense to protect you from any further allegations by proving your lack of intention.

  1. Consent

Sometimes, the claimant may have issued consent to use the vehicle, but forgot about it. Thus, he or she may later report the case of a stolen car while the truth is that he/she gave consent in the first instance. Additionally, some malicious claimants may want you behind bars. Thus, they may deny any claims of giving consent that you raise. However, your lawyer’s diligence can quickly salvage the situation by presenting evidence that proves the issuance of approval. It may be in the form of text messages or phone call logs that you and the claimant had before accessing the vehicle. Moreover, consent is also deduced from the conduct of the parties. If the rightful car owner acted or said statements that affirmed permission to use the car, you have the right to notify the court and seek redress in the matter.

There are several other defenses that your lawyer can raise on your behalf. They often depend on the circumstances of the case, coupled with any actions you and the affected party took.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing grand theft auto charges can be quite frustrating and draining, especially if you lack the required legal assistance and guidance of a lawyer. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we dedicate ourselves to providing legal solutions to our clients who face numerous criminal charges. You will work with a brilliant team that has vast expertise in the area of defense. If you are currently facing grand theft auto charges, contact us today at 310-935-1675. We will be happy to hear from you and guide you on your legal defense.