Grand Theft Auto Attorney

Grand theft auto charges are serious and carry severe penalties if convicted. That’s why it’s recommended that you find the right criminal defense attorney to represent you. Retaining the proper defense services can mean the difference between severe penalties or lenient ones, depending on the specifics of your case. The following provides insight into how California defines grand theft auto and what kinds of punishments are associated with it.

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What is Grand Theft Auto?

California’s vehicle theft law VC 10851 and PC 496d(a), otherwise known as grand theft auto (GTA) is defined as intentionally taking or driving away with someone else’s’ vehicle without their permission.  Furthermore, such charges could lead to two separate offenses:

  • VC 10851 or PC 496d(a)
    • VC 10851 is when you drive or take a vehicle not on your own, without the consent of the owner, and when you took the vehicle, you intended to deprive the owner of possession for any period of time.
    • PC 496d(a) means that you unlawfully received, bought, sold, concealed or possessed a stolen vehicle knowing that it was stolen at the time.

Similar Practice Areas/Related Offenses

There are several related charges that are similar to and sometimes charged in addition to GTA charges.

  • PC 215, Carjacking is charged if it comes to light that you used direct intimidation to take the car from its’ owner. For example, if you used physical force or the threat of physical force in order to take the vehicle away from someone else’s possession.
    • Carjacking is considered a violent offense and can be considered a “strike” offense. A “strike” offense is part of the California Three Strikes Rule in which being convicted of 3 strikes could result in severe, life-long punishments.
  • PC 488 and PC 490.2, Petty theft is defined as the intentional stealing of property that does not belong to you and is valued at/or under $950 (nine-hundred fifty dollars).
    • Before November 2014, California law stated that any theft of a vehicle would be considered grand theft auto. However, since the passing of Proposition 47, California “grand theft” charges of an automobile could be considered petty theft if the vehicles’ value is less than $950.
  • PC 499(a), Joyriding with 1 prior auto theft conviction.
  • PC 499(b), Joyriding with 2 prior auto theft convictions.

What does the Prosecution have to Prove?

In order for the prosecution to charge you with GTA, they must first prove the elements of the crime were committed.  Under VC 10851, the prosecution must prove that you:

  • Intentionally took/drove away with someone else’s’ vehicle without their permission and
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the automobile for any length of time.
    • Under this element, even if you only intended to take it for a twenty-minute joyride in order to deprive the owner of it, you could face charges of VC 10851.

Under GTA PC 496d(a), the prosecution must prove that you:

  • Possessed, bought, received, sold or concealed the vehicle from the true owner; and
  • When you possessed, bought, sold, received or concealed the vehicle, you knew that the vehicle was stolen.

Who can be Charged?

If the prosecution can prove that the elements of the crime for grand theft auto were committed, then you could be charged with either VC 10851 or PC 496d(a). Other elements that can be considered include:

  • If you tricked someone and persuaded them into letting you take possession of the vehicle;
  • Under false pretenses, you lied in order for the owner to transfer ownership of the vehicle to you; or
  • Abusing a position of power or trust in order to take possession of someone else’s’ automobile, otherwise known as a form of embezzlement.

The following are some examples that can shed some light on who can be charged with grand theft auto under either VC 10851 or PC 496d(a):

For Example: Bill was an automobile mechanic and could not find work in the city. After months of searching, he discovered that the market for stolen car parts was booming and decided to try his hand at stealing and selling vehicles to earn a living. He steals a Honda Accord from his local gas station while the driver ran into the convenient store to pay for their gas. The owner had left the car parked and the engine on so Bill took the opportunity to climb in and drive away.  The prosecution can charge Bill with VC 10851 for stealing someone else’s’ vehicle without their permission and because the car would be sold and stripped for parts, it would permanently deprive the owner of their property.

Another example:  Ted sold his vehicle to a neighbor down the street in order to catch up on some of his household bills. This left him without personal transportation, so he knowingly kept a copy of the car keys in case he ever wanted to use the vehicle he sold.  Without the authorization of his neighbor, Ted would use the vehicle when he knew his neighbor was out of town.  The neighbor returns early from a trip and discovers their vehicle missing. It turns out that Ted had parked the vehicle in his own garage, planning to put it back before the neighbor returned.  Since Ted didn’t have permission to use the vehicle and it no longer belonged to him, he could face charges of grand theft auto, even though the vehicle was parked down the street.

Legal Defenses

With the right criminal defense lawyer, you can gain the advantage needed to attain the best possible outcome. A proper legal defense team will be able to recognize the legal complexities associated with grand theft auto and similar related offenses.

Potential legal defenses that your criminal defense attorney may be able to use are:

  • Was there intent to steal the car?
  • Did the defendant believe they had some ownership of the vehicle? Is there any claim of right to the automobile?
    • This means if the defendant had good faith and belief that the property belonged to them, even if the belief is incorrect, they may not be charged with GTA.
  • Did the defendant actually receive the owner’s consent?
  • Your legal defense will also consider false accusations if it pertinent to your case.


PC 496d(a) is considered a “wobbler” case and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specifics of the case and your criminal history.

  • Felony penalties are:
    • Fines up to $10,000 and/or
    • Up to 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail.
  • Misdemeanor penalties are:
    • Fines up to $5,000 and/or
    • Up to 1 year in county jail.

VC 10851 is also considered a “wobbler” and the prosecution can seek misdemeanor or felony charges as well.

  • Felony penalties are:
    • Fines up to $10,000 and/or
    • Up to 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail.
  • Misdemeanor penalties are:
    • Fines up to $5,000 and/or
    • Up to 1 year in county jail.

Penalties for Related Offenses

  • PC 215, Carjacking is considered a felony and a violent crime with these penalties:
    • 3, 5, or 9 years of incarceration in a state penitentiary.
  • PC 488 and PC 490.2, petty theft is considered a misdemeanor with penalties of:
    • Up to $1,000 in fines and/or
    • Up to 6 months in county jail.
  • PC 499(a), 1 prior conviction for joyriding and
  • PC 499(b), 2 prior convictions for joyriding,
    • Often charged as a felony because of the criminal history,
    • 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail or state prison.

Facing grand theft auto charges under California VC 10851 or PC 496d(a) is serious and you should not have to face them alone. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Orange County, or Los Angeles and are in need of a San Diego criminal defense lawyer, make sure to contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.  With your future on the line, make the right decision by contacting attorney Anna Yum, one of San Diego’s top-rated criminal defense attorneys, to represent you.  Call (619) 233-4433 for more information.