While everyone has heard of grand theft auto (no doubt partially due to the successful video game franchise), joyriding is a much more common crime in California. That’s because it’s easier for prosecutors to get convictions for this crime than grand theft auto (GTA). Although joyriding, legally known as the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle or California Vehicle Code 10851, is not as serious as GTA, it is still can carry a heavy sentence and should always be taken seriously. If you have been accused of joyriding in California, please call a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
Joyriding Under California Law
The unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle involves the theft of a vehicle is the law that covers joyriding, but it also covers other forms of vehicle theft as well. Unlike grand theft auto, the prosecution does not need to prove that someone actually stole a vehicle or intended to keep it. Instead, they must prove you drove or took a vehicle without permission of the owner and intended to deprive the owner temporarily or permanently of the vehicle. This crime covers everything from joyriding, which is temporarily depriving the owner, to theft which means you have no intent to return it. So, the prosecution never has to prove who actually stole the vehicle which is why grand theft auto is so rarely charged.
In court, this crime is neither referred to as “joyriding” or “grand theft auto” but is known for its less glamorous designation of Vehicle Code 10851. In fact, California now limits actual joyriding charges to bicycles and vessels.
Although VC 10851 is a popular crime by minors, it seems to be an equally common crime with adults. Adults cases sometimes involve theft rings where cars are sold to chop shops. The District Attorney has a special unit devoted to the arrest and conviction of these individuals.
When committed by minors it frequently involves teens who don’t have their license. When this occurs, the minor can also face charges related to driving without a valid driver’s license. It’s worth noting that even a passenger can be charged with joyriding, so even if you didn’t steal the car or drive it, if you knew it was being driven without permission, you can still face charges. Anyone arrested for joyriding in San Diego should contact an attorney before speaking with the police in order to avoid saying something that may harm their defense.
Consequences of VC 10851
If you’ve been busted for joyriding, you may face felony or misdemeanor charges. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If charged as a felony, you could face up to 3 years in prison. You are more likely to face the maximum offense if you were recklessly driving or involved in a crash while joyriding, particularly if someone was injured or killed as a result. If the vehicle that was taken was an ambulance, a police car or a vehicle bearing a disabled placard, the crime is always a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison. Many people who joyride also do not have a valid license and may be charged for this as well.
The good news is that many of the people who are charged with joyriding charges are minors. In California, juveniles under 12 cannot be charged with a crime and those over 12 will face charges in the juvenile court system, which focuses more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. In fact, many joyriding cases with minors are considered delinquent acts rather than criminal offenses although how to charge the crime will vary based on the specifics of the incident, the offender’s age, the defendant’s criminal history and more. Common penalties for minors who are convicted of joyriding can include community service, counseling, detention, house arrest and a delay in the ability to get a driver’s license. A top juvenile crimes lawyer can help minimize the charges and penalties a teenager may face for joyriding crimes.
Fighting the Joyriding Charges
In many cases, the best option for someone accused of joyriding is to have their driving crimes attorney negotiate a plea bargain on their behalf. But in some cases, it may be better to fight the charges. If you took the car without permission due to a very real emergency, this can serve as a total defense to the charges. Alternatively, there may have been nothing more than a misunderstanding regarding you and the owner of the vehicle and you may genuinely have believed that you could use the car. In some cases, you may believe that you had ownership of the vehicle because, for example, your parent said they bought the car for you and you didn’t realize they were still the legal owner of the car. When this happens, your reasonable belief that the vehicle belonged to you may work as a defense.
Whatever the specifics of your case, it is always advisable to avoid talking to the police without your theft crime lawyer present or you may weaken your defense. To schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.
Creative Commons Image by Timm Suess