Grand theft auto is a common offense that carries very serious penalties. In Los Angeles, it’s almost always treated as a felony, even though many defendants have no violent history and did not want to hurt anyone. This means that “GTA” is one of the many offenses where the punishment is far too severe for the crime—including up to 3 years in jail. If you or someone close to you has been arrested, don’t face the charge alone. You need to talk to a Los Angeles grand theft auto lawyer.
The Simmrin Law Group knows how to help you. We have the experience, knowledge and track record to defend car theft cases—and we know how to win. Our mission is to stand up for those who have been accused, and defend you as if our own family member is on trial. Let us give you a free consultation to get you started. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.
What counts as grand theft auto in Los Angeles?
Grand theft auto is defined by a tiny subsection of state law known as California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1). Under this law, it means intentionally taking a car that belongs to someone else. It does not matter exactly how you took the car. For example, all of the following would count as grand theft auto:
Breaking the window on a car and hot-wiring it
“Jimmying” or forcing open the door and hot-wiring the car
Stealing the keys from the owner and driving off
Opening an unlocked car with the keys left inside, turning the keys and driving off (without permission)
It also doesn’t matter what you intend to do with it. Using it as your own car, selling it for parts, or simply abandoning it somewhere can all be charged the same way.
However, grand theft auto is not California’s only car theft law. State law also contains a second, less serious offense under Vehicle Code 10851, known as the “joyriding” law. While also a criminal offense, this law generally carries lower penalties. A skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to get your grand theft auto charge downgraded to joyriding, or even win your case for you. You can see our complete joyriding guide here.
What is the difference between grand theft auto and joyriding?
The main difference is how long you planned to keep the car:
Grand theft auto means you planned to steal the car long-term—either to keep using it, destroy it, sell it, etc.
Joyriding means you meant to use it briefly and then abandon it, usually somewhere the owner or police might find it.
Another difference is in how they’re prosecuted. Technically, both crimes can be felonies or misdemeanors—it’s up to the prosecutor. However, in practice they are treated differently:
Grand theft auto is usually charged as a felony
Joyriding is usually charged as a misdemeanor if it’s a first offense
What counts as a motor vehicle?
Under state law, almost any vehicle that is self-propelled counts. The only exceptions are motorized wheelchairs and small motorized tricycles or quads used by people with disabilities. That means that stealing a motorcycle or other small vehicle can also count as grand theft auto.
What are the penalties for car theft in Los Angeles?
If it’s charged as grand theft auto, it will most likely be a felony. The prosecutor is supposed to consider your criminal history (if any) and the specifics of what happened, and there is a chance of being charged with a misdemeanor instead—but it’s rare. The felony GTA penalties are:
16 months to 3 years in jail
1 extra year if the car was worth over $65,000 or 2 extra years if it was worth over $200,000
A fine of up to $10,000
If the crime is charged as joyriding, however, you are much more likely to face misdemeanor charges. The misdemeanor joyriding penalties are:
Up to 1 year in jail
A fine of up to $5,000
It is possible to be charged with felony joyriding, usually if you have previous car theft convictions. In that case you could face up to 3 years similar to a grand theft auto charge.
There are additional penalties if your joyriding charge involved an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance.
How do you fight a grand theft auto charge?
It’s important to have a lawyer helping you. No single defense will work in every case, and even the best defense won’t work unless you have someone on your side who understands the law.
Some of the strongest defenses that can be used in car theft cases include:
Falsely accused. Just because you have been accused or arrested does not make you guilty—and you cannot be convicted unless the prosecutor can prove otherwise. Your attorney will work with you to attack the prosecutor’s evidence and build a case that you were not involved.
Insufficient evidence. In many cases the evidence against you just isn’t enough to convict, or some of the evidence may not be legally valid. This can turn your case around.
Police misconduct. Police sometimes break the rules that guarantee truth, transparency and your civil rights. If they performed an illegal search, failed to read you your rights or coerced a confession, we can ask the judge to throw out the evidence they gathered and potentially win your case.
Other strong defenses include not intending to steal the car, having permission to use it, or even believing it was yours. But it depends on what happened in your case. You need to speak to a lawyer.
Talk to a Los Angeles Grand Theft Auto Lawyer for Free
We don’t believe that a mistake should ruin years of your life. At the Simmrin Law Group, we know how to defend car theft cases—let us help you. We will give you a FREE consultation and help you understand your options. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.