Under California law, simply borrowing an item without asking isn’t a crime in most cases as long as the “borrower” intends to return the property. But the state handles the taking modes of transportation quite a bit more seriously than other types of property, which is why joyriding crimes do not require the prosecutor to prove that the thief intended to return the stolen vehicle like they would if they attempted to prosecute grand theft auto charges. The unlawful taking of a bicycle or vessel is handled in the same way under California Penal Code section 499b (PC).
Unlawfully Taking a Bicycle or Vessel
499b (PC) covers the unlawful taking of a bicycle, unicycle, tricycle or other cycles not considered “vehicles” under California law, as well as water vessels, including boats, kayaks, paddle boards, jet skis and more. The difference between these charges and other theft crimes, is that the prosecutor must not prove that the defendant intended to permanently keep the item or keep it long enough to interfere with the rightful owner’s property rights, which they are required to do in most cases involving theft. Instead, just showing that the thief took the item without the property owner’s permission and with the intent to use or operate it is enough to result in a conviction.
This means you could be tried for simply taking a friend’s bike for a ride around the neighborhood to see how it rides because you’re thinking about getting a similar model -as long as you borrowed it without asking first. Of course, in this case, your friend could probably stop the charges from being filed, even if he called the police because he thought the bike was stolen while you were doing your test ride.
It’s worth mentioning that in an avid bicycling area like San Diego, bikes are valued and expensive and the theft of them is taken seriously.
Penalties for 499b (PC)
The unlawful taking of a bicycle or vessel is a misdemeanor. When the crime involves a bicycle, it is punishable by up to $400 in fines and three months in jail. When it involves a vessel, it has more severe penalties, up to $1000 in fines and a full year in jail. If the property was not recovered or was damaged, you may also be required to pay restitution to the victim.
While prosecutors are likely to also file petty or grand theft charges in these cases as well, based on the value of the property in question, the good news is that you can only be charged with either the unlawful taking of a bicycle or vessel or theft, not both. This means that if the prosecution cannot prove that you intended to permanently take the item or deprive the owner of the item, you will most likely only be convicted of 499b (PC).
Defenses to Unlawfully Taking a Bicycle or Vessel
If you have been accused of this crime, your lawyer can help you fight the charges in a number of ways. In some cases, the best defense is simply to argue that you did have permission even if the property owner failed to forget this fact. Alternatively, if there is any question as to the ownership of the item, this could also serve as a defense.
Because 499b (PC) requires the alleged thief to intend to use or operate the boat or bike, this can also be a defense in some cases. As an example, if you live in a bad neighborhood and your neighbor’s child left their bike in the yard, you could legally move it into your garage to keep it safe as long as you didn’t use or operate the bicycle and intended to give it back when you saw your neighbor or your child again.
Similarly, if you accidentally loaded a kayak onto your trailer before realizing you loaded someone else’s property because the two kayaks looked similar, you did not break the law, but made a simple mistake.
If you have any questions about the unlawful taking of a bicycle or vessel, please contact Peter M. Liss to schedule a free consultation. Call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.