What Is Grand Theft Auto?
The California Penal Code, in section 487, defines "grand theft auto" (GTA) as willfully and illegally taking into your possession an automobile that belongs to another.
For the taking of a motor vehicle to count as grand theft auto, the perpetrator must have taken it without the owner's consent and intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently or for a sufficiently long period of time as to affect its value.
Along with the charge of grand theft auto is frequently leveled the additional and related charge of "theft and unlawfully taking and/or driving a motor vehicle." This last charge is sometimes referred to as "joyriding."
What Must the Prosecution Prove?
To prove grand theft auto by larceny, the prosecutor must establish the following as facts:
- The defendant took a vehicle belonging to another person.
- He/she did so without first obtaining the owner's consent.
- At the time of taking the vehicle, the defendant intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to keep it from him/her for long enough to lessen its value or the enjoyment it could later give the owner.
- The defendant moved the vehicle, even if only a small distance.
- The defendant kept the vehicle for a period of time, even if that time-period was very brief.
To prove grand theft auto by false pretenses, the following elements must be established:
- The defendant convinced the owner of the vehicle to sign over the title to him or to otherwise put the car under his ownership.
- Fraud and/or deceit was used to persuade the owner to transfer the vehicle to the defendant's possession.
- The owner turned over the vehicle to the defendant based on the false information the defendant supplied.
Grand theft auto by trick is the same as by false pretenses except for one difference: the owner never intended to transfer ownership of the vehicle but merely was tricked into releasing the vehicle into the defendant's immediate control.
Grand theft auto by embezzlement is distinguished from other forms of GTA in that the owner entrusted the vehicle to the care of the perpetrator because of a preexisting relationship of trust between them. The prosecutor must show that this relationship existed and that it was violated if an embezzlement conviction is to be gained.
Defenses Against Grand Theft Auto Charges
Four of the most commonly used legal defense strategies against grand theft auto charges are as follows:
- The defendant never intended to steal the automobile. Without the element of intent, the GTA charge falls to the ground.
- The defendant had already obtained permission from the owner before he/she drove the vehicle.
- The vehicle belonged to defendant, or the defendant honestly, though incorrectly, believed it to be his rightful possession. The intent was not to take the property of another but to claim or reclaim his own.
- The allegations are completely false. The defendant never took the vehicle at all. It could be the defendant was framed, has been maliciously blamed, or is a victim of mistaken identity. A good defense team will thoroughly investigate and find evidence and witnesses to overturn such a spurious charge.
Possible Punishments for Grand Theft Auto
Under California Penal Code section 487(d)(1), grand theft auto is a "wobbler" that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The circumstances of the case and the past criminal record of the defendant can affect this decision. However, practically speaking, almost all cases of GTA are filed as felonies. The punishment is then 16 months to 3 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
When a car is stolen, there are frequently other related offenses that are included lesser offenses, aggravations, or purely additional charges. Some of these are as follows:
- Taking and Unlawfully Driving a Motor Vehicle (PC 10851): If it cannot be established that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of his vehicle, he still may have intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle for some period of time, however short. This allows a charge of unlawfully taking and driving a vehicle he knew was not his own and without the owner's consent. The lesser charge of "joy-riding" can be charged as misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, it leads to one year in the county jail and/or a $5,000 fine. As a felony, it is punished by 16 months to 3 years in state prison.
- Petty Theft With a Prior (PC 666): When a car is stolen, there may also be other items stolen along with it. These items may be of small value and amount to petty theft. However, if one charged with GTA has three or more prior convictions with time served for certain offenses, the petty theft will be punished more severely. Qualifying prior offenses include: petty theft, grand theft, burglary, robbery, auto theft, car-jacking, and a felony violation of PC 496.
- Grand Theft Firearm (PC 487): A firearm may have been stolen along with the car or stolen and then used to obtain the car. All firearm thefts are automatic felonies in the state of California.
- Theft Enhancement (PC 12022.6a): If multiple charges of theft, grand or petty, total more than the "statutory minimums" set forth in this part of the penal code, enhanced sentencing ensues. In many cases, multiple thefts were connected as part of a single, overall scheme and are, therefore, treated together. If the total amount stolen ranged from $50,000 to $2.5 million, one to four extra years in state prison may be added to the sentence.
- Auto Burglary (PC 459): If the defendant entered a car with locked doors by breaking into it and while intending to commit either petite or grand larceny or any form of felony, it is auto burglary.
- Car-Jacking (PC 215): The use of force or threats to take a car away from its owner's immediate control and against his/her will is known as car-jacking.
Contact Us Today for Expert Legal Defense
If you have been accused of committing any kind or grand theft auto or similar crime in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Offices of Jeff Voll for help. We can answer all of your legal inquiries and give you a free and private consultation. Call us today at 323-467-6400, and we will give your case immediate attention and fight for and obtain for you the most favorable outcome possible.