While it may look like a fun and wild time in video games, grand theft auto is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. If you have been arrested for stealing a car in San Diego do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC for immediate legal assistance. For the past 16 years, our experienced San Diego grand theft auto attorneys have been dedicated to helping clients just like you fight back against a wide range of complex criminal charges.
We know that your future is at risk and will do everything to minimize the consequences of your arrest. Our aggressive approach allows us to keep the prosecution off guard and make it difficult for them to build a strong case against you. As a result of this strategy, we are often able to negotiate favorable plea bargains and, in some cases, get the charges dismissed altogether. Contact us today to request a free consultation and learn more.
Grand Theft Auto
In most theft cases, the type of crime you’ll be charged with (petty or grand) will depend on the value of the property that is stolen. Crimes involving the theft of cars are a bit different. Whenever you steal a car in California the crime will automatically be considered an act of grand theft, as defined in California Penal Code Section 478(d)(1). This is true regardless of that vehicle’s actual value. In theory, you could steal two items each worth $500: an old car and a bracelet. The crime for stealing the bracelet: petty theft, a misdemeanor that likely carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail. The crime for stealing the car: grand theft auto, a felony that can land you in prison for up to 3 years.
If you are arrested and charged with grand theft auto, the state will have the burden of proving the following elements of the crime:
- You took a car that was owned by another person
- You did this without the owner’s consent
- When you took the car, you intended to keep it permanently or for a period of time that would prevent the owner from its value or use, and
- You moved the car some distance, no matter how slight.
In other words, the state will have to prove that you took and moved another person’s cars without permission, and intended to keep it forever or a significant period of time.
Types of Grand Theft Auto
When we think about crimes of theft we tend to think about one person physically stealing something that belongs to another person without their knowledge. This type of theft, which is known as larceny, is the most common way acts of grand theft auto are committed. However, grand theft auto can also be accomplished through other types of theft:
- Trick (using fraud and deceit to convince someone to give you their property)
- Embezzlement (taking or using property that has been entrusted in your care)
- False Pretenses (fraudulently misrepresenting yourself using written instruments to deceive another person into giving you their property).
The bottom line is that any act of theft involving a car will be considered grand theft auto.
Grand Theft Auto or Joyriding?
How is grand theft auto different from joyriding (also known as unlawful taking of a vehicle)? The biggest difference comes down to your intent. Grand theft auto requires that you have the intent to steal the car permanently or keep it for so long that the owner is no longer able to enjoy its use and value. Joyriding, on the other hand, occurs when you intend to take a car temporarily.
Both crimes can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. However, the maximum penalties for grand theft auto are much more significant than those for unlawfully taking a vehicle.
Grand Theft Auto Penalties
In California, grand theft auto can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The specific charge will depend on the value of the car you’ve been accused of stealing, your prior criminal acts, and whether anyone was injured because of your actions. In the majority of cases, grand theft auto is charged as a felony.
Misdemeanor Grand Theft Auto: When charged as a misdemeanor, grand theft auto carries a maximum penalty of:
- One year in a San Diego County jail, and
- $1,000 in fines.
Felony Grand Theft Auto: When charged as a felony, grand theft auto is punishable by:
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a California state prison, and
- $10,000 in fines.
If the stolen car was worth more than $65,000 or $200,000, an additional 1 or 2 years (respectively) can be added to your criminal sentence.
Defenses for Grand Theft Auto
Just because you’ve been accused of stealing a car doesn’t mean that you’ll be convicted and sent to prison. You have the opportunity to assert a defense. The arguments used in your defense should help to explain or justify your alleged behavior. When these arguments are successful, the prosecutors will be more agreeable to offering a plea or dropping the charges. Defenses that may be helpful in your San Diego grand theft auto case include:
- You mistakenly believed you had the right to take the car
- The owner gave you permission to take the car
- You are the car’s true owner
- You never moved the car
- You only intended to take the car for a short while, or
- You were acting under force or duress.
If the police have discovered evidence in violation of your Constitutional rights the prosecution should not be entitled to benefit. Our attorneys will file a motion to suppress any evidence that has been contaminated by an illegal search, unlawful arrest, or other violation of your rights. Without this evidence, the state may be forced to negotiate reduced charges or dismiss the case in full.
Speak with a San Diego Grand Theft Auto Defense Attorney
Have you been arrested for grand theft auto in San Diego? Contact criminal defense attorney Vikas Bajaj to learn about how he can help you fight any criminal charges you may face. The prosecution will begin to build a case against you right away, so it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as you can. Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC to request a free consultation. We will review your case, determine if your rights have been violated, and answer your questions.