“Unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle” is one of the two laws used to prosecute car theft in Los Angeles. Although it’s the less serious than grand theft auto, unlawful taking remains a serious crime and often carries up to a year in jail. In some cases it can even be a felony that carries years in prison. If you or someone in your family has been charged with unlawful taking of a vehicle, you need to speak to a Los Angeles car theft lawyer immediately.
The Simmrin Law Group knows how to fight and win car theft cases. We have made it our mission to stand up for the accused—and do everything possible to win. We will listen to your story, take your side, and help you understand your best legal options. Then we’ll build you the best defense possible, potentially avoiding jail time or even winning your case outright. Let us give you a free consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.
What counts as unlawful taking of a vehicle in Los Angeles?
Unlawful taking of a vehicle is sometimes called the “joyriding” law. The implication is that the suspect only took the vehicle to use it temporarily—not necessarily to steal it for good. In reality, however, a wide range of cases can be charged under the joyriding law. This can include serious car theft cases that would normally be charged as grand theft auto, but have been downgraded as part of a plea bargain.
Joyriding or unlawful taking is defined by California Vehicle Code Section 10851. This statue defines it as:
Taking (or driving) someone else’s motor vehicle without their consent,
With the intention to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently or temporarily.
This is what makes unlawful taking different from grand theft auto. With grand theft auto, the intention is always to take the vehicle long-term or permanently—often to sell it or use it for scrap. With unlawful taking, however, there doesn’t have to be any intention to take it permanently. This means that a wide variety of “thefts” can count as unlawful taking, many of them without criminal intention.
Examples of unlawful taking of a vehicle include:
A valet is entrusted to park a car, but decides to take it for a spin while the owner isn’t using it.
A young man steals a car with the intention to use it for one night and then ditch it.
A woman often uses her roommate’s car, with the roommate’s permission; however, one weekend she needs to use it and the roommate says no. The woman “borrows” it anyway, intending to return it like usual—but the roommate calls the police.
A teenager sees a sports car parked with the keys still in the ignition, and decides to drive it just to see how fast it can go.
Gang members take a car to use while performing a drive-by shooting, with the intention to abandon it afterward.
It does not matter how you stole the car—you do not have to break in to be guilty of unlawful taking (unlike in an auto burglary charge). And no force had to be used, unlike in carjacking cases. Even if the owner gave you the keys, if you used it in a way that you were not allowed to, it could count as breaking the law.
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Can I be charged with “unlawful taking” for a motorcycle or other small vehicle?
Yes. The legal definition of a motor vehicle includes almost anything self-propelled. (The only exceptions are motorized wheelchairs and other small motorized devices used by people with disabilities.) You could be charged with unlawful taking of a moped and the consequences are the same as they are for an automobile.
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What are the penalties for unlawful taking of a vehicle in Los Angeles?
It depends on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
In California, unlawful taking is almost always charged as a misdemeanor if it’s your first offense. This is another way that unlawful taking is different from grand theft auto, which is usually a felony. However, you can be charged with a felony for unlawful taking if you’ve stolen cars before or have a record of violent criminal offenses.
Penalties for unlawful taking of a vehicle include:
Up to 1 year in jail
A fine of up to $5,000
16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison
There are additional penalties if your joyriding charge involved an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance.
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What defenses can I use?
The best defense is the one that best reflects what happened and is most likely to win—and that will depend on the specifics of your case. However, there are several defenses that we see work very well in car theft cases. These include:
No intent to deprive the owner. Remember the legal definition of unlawful taking, described above. You must have intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle for some amount of time, either temporarily or permanently. If you didn’t intend to deprive them at all, not even temporarily, then you are not guilty. This defense works in cases where it’s reasonable that you meant to return the vehicle before the owner needed it.
You had permission to use the vehicle. If you had permission, even just verbal permission, it’s not unlawful taking.
It belonged to you. If you believed the car belonged to you—even if your belief turned out to be wrong—it’s not unlawful taking.
Wrongfully accused. You are not guilty simply because you look like the person who stole the car, nor because a witness says they saw someone like you take it. If you are falsely accused, we need to launch our own investigation and assemble evidence to prove you are innocent.
One thing all of these defenses have in common is that none of them work unless you know how to present a strong case. This is why it’s so important to have a lawyer on your side.
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At the Simmrin Law Group, we don’t believe that one incident should ruin your life. That’s why we’re committed to helping you defend your case. When we take on a client, we fight like it’s our own family member who stands accused. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Let us give you a FREE consultation to start building your defense. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.