Grand Theft is a criminal offense in California. When facing this charge, it is essential to have the expertise of an excellent Attorney. A reasonable attorney will not only come up with a good defense but will also ensure that you use the minimum resources possible. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have an excellent criminal defense lawyer who will get you off the hook for this charge. Below is all you need to know regarding grand theft auto.

Overview Of Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto refers to the crime of taking away someone’s car to steal it. It also refers to depriving the owner of the vehicle the right to use his/her vehicle.

Besides, you also face Grand Theft Auto charges when you do the following;

  • use a stolen car as a getaway from a crime scene,
  • when you take parts of a vehicle to sell them and
  • when you have the intention to steal a car and end up abandoning it somewhere else.

The law regarding Grand Theft Auto falls under the Penal Code 487(d) (1). This law is almost similar to the grand theft law. While the penalties may somehow vary, they mostly have similar characteristics.

The enforcement officers in California tend to take this offense very seriously. Therefore, the chances of enforcement officers recovering the car are very high. As of 2011, the rate of recovery of stolen vehicles lied at eighty-five percent.

The Grand Theft Auto Charge is a wobbler meaning that it can fall under the category of a misdemeanor or a felony. The classification depends on the circumstances that surround the crime and the criminal history of the defendant. If the circumstances surrounding the charge are severe, then the court will take the case as a felony. It is essential to note that a felony charge will incur stiffer penalties compared to a misdemeanor.

What Is PC 487(D)(1)?

As mentioned earlier, the PC 487(d) (1) is the law that regulates grand theft auto. The law states that it is a crime to take away someone’s car to steal or keep it permanently.

While this offense is almost similar to that of 'joyriding,' the primary distinction is the period within which the offender intended to keep the car. For those people whose intention is to keep the vehicle permanently, then this is the applicable code. The other charge applies to those people whose aim is to take away the car for a short period.

This law also stipulates that you can face GTA charges even if you had obtained the permission of the owner before taking it away. The scenario applies to those people who get consent through pretense or by using tricks.

It is vital to note that though this charge is a wobbler, most courts regard it as a felony. In theory and in the books, the state takes it as a wobbler, but in practice, the legal professionals only consider it as a felony.

Additionally, violating this code becomes more aggravated when the car in question is of value. Therefore, this means that a person who steals an expensive vehicle will face an additional sentence enhancement on top of their standard charge.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove

To prosecute you for a Grand Theft Auto charge, there are certain elements that the prosecution team has to prove. These elements refer to the aspects of the case that must be present for the state to charge you with this crime. The prosecutor has to prove the following;

  • You took someone else’s car
  • You took someone’s car without his or her consent
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently
  • You intended to take away the car for an extended period hence depriving the owner of a substantial portion of enjoying the car
  • You moved the vehicle from its original location and kept it away for an extended period

The above scenarios refer to Grand Theft by larceny and are the most common GTA scenarios.

Also, the prosecutor can charge you with this crime if he/she can manage to prove the following scenarios:

  • That you took someone’s car by tricking him/her into giving it to you
  • That you were given access to the vehicle through lying and deceiving the car owner
  • That you acquired someone else’s car through embezzlement, I.e., you stole a car that the owner had entrusted to you.

If you are facing GTA charges, then it means that these elements are similar to those of your case. Hiring Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will assure you of a positive outcome in the courts and will guarantee you of lesser penalties and charges.

Grand Theft Auto for Minors

Not all car thieves are adults. Some are just teens and pre-teens who are out to adventure and try their luck in the criminal world.

The penalties on minors depend on the circumstances that surrounded the theft. If the minor is a habitual offender, then the court may choose to charge him/her as an adult. Here, your child could face a felony or misdemeanor, depending on how the crime happened.

However, it is rare for the prosecutor to charge a minor with a GTA charge. This is because a GTA charge is a severe offense and could harm their record. Therefore, most minors face joyriding charges in place of Grand Theft Auto if they are first time offenders.

Law professionals advise parents that they should not allow their children to speak to the police without a lawyer present as they may end up incriminating themselves.


The penalty the court imposes on you depends on the value of the car and your prior criminal records. The standard penalties for this charge may include the following:

  • A jail sentence constituting three years for a felony GTA and up to one year for a misdemeanor
  • A fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars

However, the penalties vary for different people. This is because one may face additional sentence enhancements depending on the circumstances surrounding your charge. The value of the car may also cost you another sentence. Therefore this means that the higher the value of the vehicle, the higher the likelihood of getting stiffer penalties.

Besides, the offender may face mandatory formal probation for a Felony GTA and an informal one if the charge is a misdemeanor. However, this depends on the criminal history of the defendant.

Related Charges

VC 10851 Joy Riding

Violation of this code is almost similar to that of a fundamental GTA law. The difference between the two is that joyriding refers to taking away someone else’s car for a shorter period compared to the GTA charge.

In most cases, offenders face this charge when they take away someone’s car to make rounds with it, i.e., short spins. Similarly, if you take away someone’s car without permission and drive it for a couple of hours after which you return it to its original location, then this charge will apply.

It is essential to note that unlike the standard GTA charge, joy riding does not apply where a person obtains the car through pretense. Therefore, this means that the law does not consider it a crime to get someone else’s car through lying and manipulation. According to this law, it is only an offense if the owner of the vehicle did not permit you to use the car.

Though this charge is a wobbler, the courts treat it as a misdemeanor if it is a first-time offense. When charged as a misdemeanor, the following penalties apply;

  • A fine not exceeding five thousand dollars
  • A maximum jail sentence of up to one year

The following penalties will apply if the court chooses to charge the offense as a felony;

  • A fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars
  • A minimum jail sentence of sixteen months and a maximum of three years

Additionally, a joyriding charge becomes worse if the car that the offender took away may have been an ambulance on duty, a law enforcement car and a car that was specially modified to meet a disabled person’s needs.

PC 459 Burglary and Auto Burglary

California auto burglary refers to entering a car to commit a felony or petty theft. Besides, it also refers to entering a building or compound with the intent of stealing a car.

When an offender enters someone’s property to steal a car, then he/she will most likely be charged with two offenses, i.e., GTA charge and a Burglary charge. Similarly, the same will apply to those people who intentionally break into a car intending to steal it.

An auto burglary charge is a felony that could cost you a jail sentence of up to three years in county jail. However, the court could also hand you a penalty of up to six years in state prison if the crime happened in a residential area.

PC 496 Receiving Stolen Property

The PC 496 law states that it is a crime to buy or receive stolen property in California. It is also wrong to conceal, withhold, or sell items that are stolen.

It is vital to note that you cannot face charges of actual theft of property and handling of stolen property. Therefore, it is unlikely that the state will charge you with this crime along with the GTA charge.

However, violating this charge can be coupled along with a joyriding charge. It is hence an offense to drive a stolen car. Even if you do not use the vehicle in question, you stand to face this PC 496 charge so long as you had anything to do with the theft of the car.

PC 215 Carjacking

PC 215 refers to the crime of taking away someone else’s car using violence or physical force. When you steal someone’s car, and in the process, you use physical strength or threaten to harm the person, then you will most likely face two charges.

Carjacking is a felony charge that is punishable by state imprisonment of up to nine years. Like all other charges, the sentence differs according to the number of times a person has committed an offense and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Because carjacking is a violent felony, the state categorizes it as a strike offense that falls under the strike laws of the country. Due to this reason, an offender must fight carjacking claims if he/she is facing the charge along with a GTA one.

PC 488 Petty Thefts

This charge applies to some offenders who steal cars that are worth less than 950 dollars. If the value of the vehicle goes beyond this figure, then the charge automatically becomes a GTA charge.

However, this charge does not apply to offenders who have previous sex conviction histories that require them to register under the state’s sex offender’s act. Similarly, those defendants that have prior severe convictions such as murder, child molestation, and rape are not entitled to this. Therefore, this means that if they steal a car, they will face GTA charges regardless of the monetary value of the vehicle.

Since this charge is a misdemeanor, the penalty of committing the offense is a fine of up to 1000 dollars or a jail sentence of up to six months or both.

This law was implemented in 2014; hence, those convicted before still faced GTA charges. Before the passing of proposition 47 in 2014, all car-related thefts were regarded as GTA charges regardless of the value of the car. Therefore, if the court convicted you of a GTA charge for a vehicle that is not worth more than 950 dollars, you can apply for an appeal. Appealing may grant you lesser penalties compared to those of a GTA.

PC 12022.6 Damage of Property

The damage of property charge applies where a person destroys or damages a car while committing or attempting to commit a felony. Therefore, this means that if an offender destroys the vehicle while stealing it, then he/she will most likely face these two charges.

Similarly, if the intention of the offender while stealing the car was to cause damage to it, then he/she will face this charge.

If the damage costs above sixty-five dollars, then the offender will face additional one-year imprisonment on top of the GTA charge the court imposes. Also, if the damage of the car is beyond 200,000 dollars, then the offender will face an additional two years imprisonment on top of the one the court stipulates for committing the felony.

Grand Theft Auto Defenses

Since the state takes GTA charges very seriously, you must take your case with seriousness as well. Having the court drop your charges is not easy and may require a lot of time and effort. The same applies to try to reduce the penalties that the court should hand down to you.

Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that you have the best legal representation. An excellent attorney not only knows his/her way around all the court processes but also knows how to come up with efficient defense strategies. The ability of your lawyer to come up with a good defense strategy influences your case.

Below are the possible defenses to GTA charges.

You had the consent of the owner

To get off the hook for a GTA charge, your attorney may try to convince the prosecution that the owner allowed you to use his/her car. Therefore, your attorney may need to come up with a way of ensuring that the owner of the vehicle admits to giving you consent.

However, it is essential to recall that consent through fraud and trickery cannot be used in GTA charges as it only applies in joyriding.

Claim Of right

To use this defense, your attorney needs to convince the prosecution that you believed that the car was yours. So long as you thought that the car was yours in good faith, the court cannot convict you of a GTA charge even if you were wrong.

Though this defense seems weak, attorneys use it to get clients off the hook. The impact it has on the prosecution depends on how your attorney presents and argues it out.

You had no intention of stealing

When Facing a GTA charge, you may argue that your intention was not to steal the car. This defense is a strong one because the central element of a GTA charge is having the intent of stealing it.

Your attorney, therefore, has the task of gathering evidence that supports that your intention was not stealing. Though the defense does not always mean that the prosecution will drop all charges, they may reduce them to joyriding. This counts as a win situation since the charges of joyriding are not as stiff as those of a GTA charge.

The Plaintiff is accusing you falsely

Like all other crimes, a person may also accuse you of committing a GTA. This mostly applies where someone gave you consent to use his/ her car but instead chooses to report you to the police. The reason behind this move may be malice or revenge-seeking.

Hiring an excellent defense attorney will help you put together the facts and come up with a convincing argument for the jury. Similarly, he/she will poke holes in the prosecution’s evidence to help you come up with a weakness that can be used as a defense.

Insufficient evidence

In most cases, the pieces of evidence presented in court are not enough to convict you of a GTA charge. Your attorney may, therefore, use this as a defense strategy to convince the court to lessen the charges or to drop them altogether.

Legal Process

If you are facing GTA charges, then you need to familiarize yourself with the court process of the charge. As we had mentioned earlier, the Grand Theft Auto Charge is almost similar to the standard theft charges. Therefore the standard theft charges court process will apply to a GTA.

Below is a summary of the court process in GTA cases.

The arraignment

Once the owner of the car reports you to the officers in charge, and they determine that the case is viable, the prosecutor forwards it to the courts. The court then issues an order requiring you to appear before a judge to have your charges read to you.

Additionally, the judge will highlight the things you are not allowed to do to avoid being taken into custody. You may also get notices of future hearings in this stage.


The pretrial allows the judge to monitor the progress of the case. He/she does this by listening to both the prosecution and the defendants’ side of the story.

In this stage, the parties involved are granted the chance to discuss the case amongst them to see whether they can settle the case without having to go to trial.

The trial

The case only reaches this point if the parties involved are unable to settle on their own. Therefore, the judge will have to examine the shreds of evidence that the parties present to help him/her come up with an appropriate sentence.

The trial can either be a jury or bench trial, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case.

The sentencing

This is the last step in the legal process of a GTA charge. Here, the judge hands you the sentence that he/she feels is befitting of your case.

As mentioned above, jail sentences vary for all people as they depend on the circumstances surrounding the case.

In case either party feels that the judgment was not fair, they can file for an appeal.

Find A Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Grand Theft Auto charges require the expertise of competent defense attorneys. The attorney you hire should be able to come up with reliable defense strategies and should understand the legal processes involved. If you are looking to hire an excellent defense attorney in Orange County, then you need not to worry. You can call us today at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney law firm on our contact 714-740-7848 to book an appointment.