While everyone has heard of grand theft auto, aka GTA, (no doubt partially due to the successful video game franchise), joyriding is a much more commonly filed criminal offense in California. Prosecutors prefer to file joyriding charges, legally known as the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle under California Vehicle Code section 10851 (VC), to grand theft auto because it is easier to prove, making convictions more likely. Although joyriding is considered a slightly less serious offense than GTA, it carries the same penalties and should always be taken seriously. If you have been accused of joyriding in San Diego, please call a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
What is the Crime of Joyriding?
Under Penal Code 10851 (VC), joyriding is essentially the unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle without consent. While this could include the traditional definition of a “joyride,” where someone drives a car without the owner’s permission and later returns it, any vehicle theft can be charged under this statute.
Although 10851 (VC) is often committed by minors, it is just as frequently committed by adults. Adult cases sometimes involve theft rings where the stolen vehicle has been sold to chop shops. The San Diego District Attorney has a special unit devoted to the arrest and conviction of these crimes.
What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Grand Theft Auto?
To prove grand theft auto charges, the prosecution must show someone intended to keep a vehicle when they stole it. There is no such requirement for establishing that joyriding took place. Instead, the D.A. must simply prove someone drove or took possession of the vehicle without permission of the owner and intended to deprive the owner temporarily or permanently of the car. Because the prosecution never has to prove someone intended to steal the vehicle permanently, they are far more likely to file charges under 10851 (VC) rather than trying to show someone met the requirements for a GTA charge.
Is Joyriding a Felony or Misdemeanor?
Joyriding is a wobbler, meaning it can be a misdemeanor or a felony. When charged as a misdemeanor, offenders can face up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If charged as a felony, the sentence for 10851 (VC) includes up to 3 years in state prison.
You are more likely to face the maximum sentencing for 10851 (VC) if you were caught recklessly driving the vehicle or were involved in a crash, particularly if someone was injured or killed in the accident.
If the stolen vehicle was an ambulance, a police car, or a car bearing a disabled placard, the crime is always a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison.
Aside from these allegations, those charged with this crime can face additional charges related to their driving. Many people accused of this crime will also be accused of reckless driving, hit and run, evading the police, or driving without a valid license. The penalties for these crimes can quickly add up, so contact a defense attorney as soon as possible if you have been accused of these crimes.
When Minors are Accused of Joyriding
Many people charged with joyriding are juveniles. In California, minors under 12 cannot be charged with a crime, and those over 12 will go through the juvenile court system, which focuses more on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The juvenile court treats many joyriding cases as delinquent acts rather than criminal offenses, which means offenders typically face less severe sentencing.
The exact penalties will vary based on the specifics of the incident, the offender’s age, the defendant’s criminal history, and more. Common penalties for minors convicted of joyriding include:
- community service
- detention in a juvenile facility
- house arrest
- a delay in their ability to get a driving license
A juvenile crimes lawyer can often help minimize the charges and penalties a minor may face for joyriding or grand theft auto crimes.
When committed by minors, this offense frequently involves drivers who don’t yet have their licenses. In these cases, the minor can also face charges related to driving without a valid driver’s license.
Even a passenger can be charged with joyriding if they knew the car was being driven without permission, so not being the driver or thief is not considered a defense to this crime. Anyone arrested for joyriding in San Diego should contact an attorney before speaking with the police to avoid saying something that may harm their defense.
Fighting Joyriding Allegations
In many cases, the best option for those accused of joyriding is to have their attorney negotiate a plea bargain on their behalf. But sometimes, it may be better to fight the charges.
Taking a car without permission due to a real emergency can serve as a total defense to the charges. Alternatively, there may have been a misunderstanding regarding you and the vehicle’s owner, and you may have genuinely believed you could use the car. For example, you may believe that you owned the vehicle because your parents said they bought the car for you, and you didn’t realize they were still the legal owners 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 San Diego criminal defense lawyer Peter M. Liss, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.