In San Diego, stealing a vehicle is considered a serious criminal offense. Just how serious of an offense it is, and what the potential penalties may be, depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Moreover, the prosecuting attorney often has the discretion in a vehicle theft case to charge the crime as the more serious felony or less serious misdemeanor in San Diego.
California law provides two statutes under which you could be charged if you took a vehicle without the owner’s permission. Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC is California’s “Grand Theft Auto”, or GTA, statute. Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC is not limited to theft of a vehicle. Instead, the statute addresses thefts of various types that are considered “grand” thefts in San Diego. The statute covers situations where a theft occurs that falls into one of the following three categories:
- Theft of property valued at more than $900
- Theft of a car or firearm
- Theft of property taken directly off the owner, for example a mugging
California Vehicle Code 10851 VC also may apply when a vehicle is taken without the owner’s consent. Often referred to as “joyriding”, Vehicle Code 10851 VC specifically covers the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle.
If you have been arrested for taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent you could be charged with either of these statutes. As a general rule, the longer the vehicle is gone the higher the probability that the defendant will be charged with Grand Theft Auto; however, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge the defendant with either statute. Both offenses are considered “wobblers” under California law, meaning that the prosecuting attorney could charge the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor. Typically, the GTA offense is considered to be the more serious offense and is usually charged, at least initially, as a felony. If you have a history of grand auto theft in San Diego, or a criminal history at all, the odds are good that you will be charged with a felony regardless of which statute the State of California decides to use to charge you.
If you are convicted of the felony Grand Theft Auto in San Diego (or Vehicle Code 10851 VC) you face a term of incarceration of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison. If you are ultimately convicted of the misdemeanor version of either offense, the potential period of incarceration drops to one year in the county jail.