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Vehicle Theft Laws (PC 487(d)(1)/VC 10851(a)) in California

California Vehicle Code 10851/PC 487: Vehicle Theft

Legal Definition: Any person who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle, whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle, or any person who is a party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing. (VC 10851(a))

For a person to be convicted of a violation of VC 10851(a), the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. You took or drove someone else’s vehicle without the owner’s consent; AND
  2. When you did, you intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle for any period of time.

Legal Definition: Requires the taking of another person’s vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. The car cost over $950. (PC 487(d)(1)).

What does this mean?

A taking requires that the vehicle be moved for any distance, no matter how small. A common example would be if you are found inside of a vehicle that is not yours sleeping. If the vehicle is outside of the owner’s home, then you did not commit a vehicle theft crime. However, if you are sleeping in the vehicle that is now 400 miles away from the owner’s home, it can likely be proven through circumstantial evidence that you did take the car a distance away. Even if you have previously been given consent to drive the owner’s vehicle, it does not mean that you had consent at the time of taking the vehicle. A vehicle can be a motorcycle, scooter, bus, truck, etc. There are penalty enhancements for certain types of vehicles that are stolen, such as an ambulance, firetruck, police cars, specialized vehicles for disabled persons, etc. (VC 10851(b)) Under VC 10851, the concept is that you are merely taking the car for the purposes of “Joyriding” (PC 499), with no intention of keeping the vehicle you “borrowed”. Joyriding is itself a crime, but typically these cases are instead charged as Unauthorized Taking of a Motor-vehicle under VC 10851.

Penalties

VC 10851 is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If you are convicted of this charge as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to County Jail for upwards of one year. If you are convicted of this charge as a felony, you could be sentenced to State Prison for upwards of 16 months, two or three years. You would be required to serve 50% of that time. VC 10851 is NOT a Strike offense under the Strikes Law. However, if you are found to be taking a vehicle described in VC 10851(b), you could be sentenced to two, three, or four years in State Prison.

PC 487(d)(1) is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If you are convicted of this charge as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to County Jail for upwards of one year. If you are convicted of this charge as a felony, you could be sentenced to State Prison for upwards of 16 months, two or three years. You would be required to serve 50% of that time. PC 487(d)(1) is NOT a Strike offense under the Strikes Law. However, if the value of the car was over $65,000, your exposure will go up by one year, and if the vehicle is over $200,000, then your exposure in State Prison adds two years.

PC 499 is a misdemeanor, where you could be sentenced to County Jail for up to one year.

Common Defenses

  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Mistake of Fact
  4. Violation of your Rights

If you were reasonably mistaken as to whether or not you had the consent to use another person’s vehicle, it can be a defense under these sections. However, if your girlfriend breaks up with you, and goes to the airport to take a flight, and while she’s gone, steals her mother’s vehicle, and then total it, it would be safe to say you did not have consent to drive her vehicle. The mistake has to be reasonable and in good
faith.

In addition, the charge depends on whether or not you actually intended to keep the car, or were just taking the car for a Joyride. This matters greatly if it is an expensive car, where you could be looking at extended time in State Prison if you intended to keep that vehicle.

Of course, a good defense is that you did actually have consent to use the vehicle. However, consent can be withdrawn at any time, so be careful in thinking that just because someone gave you consent to use their vehicle one time, you can take it forever and whenever you want.

Call Today

Charges under PC 487(d)(1) for Grand Theft Auto are serious, most often categorized as felonies despite not being violent offenses or resulting in a Strike on your record. Given the high value of vehicles, it’s rare to face a misdemeanor charge in these instances. If you’re accused of vehicle theft, expect a rigorous legal battle and ensure that you have a dedicated attorney who’s ready to fiercely advocate on your behalf.

At Inland Empire Criminal Defense, our skilled Grand Theft Ontario attorney has a wealth of experience in successfully defending a wide array of cases involving vehicle theft, including violations of PC 487(d)(1) and VC 10851. We understand the complexities of these charges and are committed to providing you with the robust defense you deserve.

You don’t have to navigate this challenging process alone. We offer a complimentary initial consultation and our team is available around the clock to address any queries or concerns. To discuss your case and explore your defense options, contact Inland Empire Criminal Defense today at 909-939-7126. Conveniently located in Ontario, CA, we’re here to stand by your side and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

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Yes, Inland Empire Criminal Defense offers free consultations. This is part of our commitment to providing accessible and transparent legal services to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

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Our office is typically closed on weekends. However, we do make exceptions for meetings by special arrangement. Our commitment is to be as accommodating as possible to meet the unique needs of our clients in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

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Our legal services are specifically tailored to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties. For cases outside these areas, we recommend consulting avvo.com to find appropriate legal assistance. Our focused approach allows us to provide specialized defense catering to the unique legal landscape of these counties.

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