California prosecutors often charge minors who are first-time offenders with joyriding rather than charging them with grand theft auto, which is a more serious offense. Of course, the charges a minor will face depend on several factors, including:
- How long the accused planned to keep the vehicle.
- The circumstances surrounding the theft of the vehicle.
- If any crimes were committed while using the stolen vehicle.
- Whether the minor has a previous criminal record.
- How old the minor is.
- If the minor was driving or was a passenger in the stolen vehicle.
- If the vehicle was an ambulance, law enforcement, or fire department vehicle.
- And more
If your child was charged with joyriding or grand theft auto, you should speak with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. A minor should never speak to the police without a parent present and, ideally, should also never talk to police without a lawyer present.
Joyriding Versus Grand Theft Auto
California has two laws dealing with the theft of a motor vehicle:
- Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle (a.k.a. Joyriding)
- Grand Theft Auto
Which charge a minor faces and whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony again depends on any number of factors. Our criminal defense lawyers specialize in defending clients accused of joyriding and Grand Theft Auto. Many times, we can get charges reduced, or dismissed altogether.
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What Counts as Joyriding?
Joyriding is loosely defined as taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner, and generally, without the intent of keeping it. That is taking it for a joyride and then abandoning it or returning it. The legal charge for joyriding is Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle, according to California Vehicle Code Section 10851.
Examples of unlawful taking, or joyriding, could include:
- A valet who is supposed to park a car, but instead takes the flashy sports car for a ride.
- A group of teens take a parent’s or grandparent’s car without their permission to go enjoy a day at the beach, but don’t get home before the parents report the car stolen.
- A teen steals a golf cart to get them where they want to go.
Unlawful taking of a vehicle applies to cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, golf carts, and any other self-propelled motorized vehicle.
What Are the Penalties for Joyriding?
Joyriding, or unlawful taking of a vehicle, is almost always a misdemeanor if you are a minor and it’s your first offense. But you can face a felony charge of unlawful taking if you’ve stolen cars before or have a violent criminal record.
Misdemeanor Penalties for Joyriding
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $5000 in fines
Felony Penalties for Joyriding
- 16 months or 2-3 years in prison
It is critical to hire a theft crimes lawyer in Los Angeles when you are facing potential incarceration. You don’t want to gamble when it comes to your freedom. A felony can remain on your record for life, which can in turn affect your ability to obtain jobs, housing, financing, and more. For a minor, a felony conviction can mean severe long-term consequences before they even begin their adult life.
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What Counts as Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto is a more serious crime and is almost always a felony. Grand Theft Auto, or GTA, is defined under California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC as taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, and with the intent of keeping it for a while.
Examples of grand theft auto include:
- Breaking a car window and hot-wiring the car.
- Stealing a car with the keys left inside.
- Stealing a vehicle with the intent to scrap it and sell it for parts.
If you are arrested for grand theft auto, use one of your phone calls to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Avoid speaking with law enforcement officers without your attorney present, especially after they have read your Miranda rights. Remember, anything you say to law enforcement officials can be used against you in court. Protect your rights by remaining silent until you have spoken with your lawyer.
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What Are the Penalties for Grand Theft Auto?
Grand theft auto is usually prosecuted as a felony, which entails harsher penalties than joyriding. The penalties for grand theft auto include:
- 16 months to 3 years in jail
- 1 additional year in jail if the vehicle was worth more than $65,000, and 2 additional years if it’s worth more than $200,000
- A fine up to $10,000
For both unlawful taking of a vehicle and grand theft auto, penalties are increased if the vehicle you stole was an ambulance, law enforcement vehicle, or fire truck. If you or a loved one was charged with joyriding or grand theft auto, it is important to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Possible Defenses Against Joyriding or GTA Charges
When you are charged for car theft, whether it is joyriding or grand theft auto, your attorney will work to build a defense on your behalf. There are several good defenses in car theft cases, but any defense should be based on what truly happened in your case. Possible defense strategies include:
You Had Permission to Use the Vehicle
If you had permission in writing, or even verbal permission, it’s not theft of any sort. Sometimes, co-owners of a vehicle don’t communicate with each other, and one person will report a car stolen even though the other person gave permission for you to use it.
If you are accused of stealing a vehicle that you had permission to use, your attorney can use this evidence to mount a defense against theft charges.
You Were Wrongfully Accused
If you were arrested because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you look like the person who stole the vehicle, we can help. We’ll get our own investigation underway and gather the needed evidence to defend your case. Evidence we may use to establish your innocence includes:
- Cell phone videos, dashcam, and CCTV footage
- Photos of the crime scene
- Testimony from people who witnessed the car theft
- Statements from people who can attest you were elsewhere
The primary goal of your criminal defense lawyer is to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. If you are wrongfully accused, your lawyer may use statements and witness testimony to prove that you were not present when the theft occurred or show that you were otherwise incapable of taking the vehicle. Any evidence that proves that you could not have stolen the vehicle can help show the court that you were wrongfully accused.
In many cases, the evidence against you isn’t enough to get a conviction, or the evidence is purely circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that requires the prosecutor or court to draw a conclusion not specified by the evidence. Instead of directly proving their point, the prosecution may try to create a logical inference that is not necessarily supported by the evidence.
To convict you of a crime, the judge or jury must be fully convinced that you were guilty of the crime beyond the shadow of a doubt. If there is not enough evidence or if the evidence is circumstantial, it introduces doubt into the process and makes it less likely that a judge or jury will convict.
Your attorney will recognize circumstantial or insufficient evidence and may seek to have such evidence dismissed. If all the evidence against you is circumstantial, they may ask the judge to dismiss the case entirely.
Speak With a Criminal Justice Attorney as Soon as Possible
A criminal defense attorney will be familiar with California laws pertaining to vehicle theft, as well as the standards the prosecution must meet to pursue a case against you. Whether a minor is more likely to be charged with joyriding over grand theft auto, either charge can carry heavy penalties that can affect a minor’s entire life.
A criminal defense lawyer with experience handling joyriding and grand theft auto cases can work with you to try and secure a dismissal or reduction of charges.
Although no outcome is guaranteed, it is your attorney’s aim to ensure the best possible outcome for your situation. Protect your right to fair representation in criminal court by contacting a criminal lawyer as soon as you can after the incident.
Contact the Criminal Defense Lawyers at Simmrin Law Group
If you or a loved one was accused of joyriding or grand theft auto, you could use a criminal defense lawyer on your side. Call Simmrin Law Group in Los Angeles or use our contact form for a free case evaluation. We’re available to help you 24/7.
Whatever the circumstances of your case are, you will want an attorney by your side to help make sure you get the best possible outcome for you and your family. Don’t talk to the police or federal investigators until you’ve talked with us.
Call or text (310) 896-2723 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form