Have you been arrested for grand theft auto? In California some theft offenses, including GTA, are “wobblers,” and may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The decision of the prosecutor to charge one or the other is usually a function of the circumstances under which the alleged crime took place, and your prior criminal history. No matter what the level of the charge, GTA is a serious offense, and incarceration is a real possibility.
At RJT Criminal Lawyer, the client always comes first. We have the experience and knowledge to provide you with the best possible representation, and we will work hard to ensure that the result in your case stands the highest chance of a dismissal, a reduced charge, or a verdict of not guilty. Call us for a free consultation.
Theft of an automobile is specifically identified under the Penal Code (PC 487(d)(1)) as a form of grand theft. But stating that you have been charged with GTA does not answer the question of how the alleged crime took place, which could affect which criminal charge is appropriate under the circumstances of your case. Most grand theft auto cases arise due to larceny. Typically, this occurs when:
- Taking another person’s vehicle. A person takes a car that is owned by another person.
- Without consent. The owner did not consent to the taking of the car.
- Intending to deprive the owner of possession permanently or for a prolonged period. The person taking the car intended to keep it himself or herself, either forever or for sufficient time that the owner would be deprived of the value of the vehicle.
There are situations, however, where the specifics of the alleged acts make the offenses susceptible to different charges, which could be more or less serious than grand theft auto. Two examples are:
- The facts may be similar to those of a typical car theft. Let us suppose that the car was taken by the defendant, without the consent of the owner. But let’s also assume that the defendant had no intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession. In that case, the proper charge would likely be what is commonly referred to as joyriding. Joyriding is a wobbler and may therefore be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, although it is usually charged as a misdemeanor. And where a juvenile is the defendant, the offense may be deemed a delinquent act, and typically be handled in Juvenile Court. In the case of ambulances, fire trucks and certain other vehicles, on the other hand, the charge could be a felony.
- This is an offense under both California and federal law. Under PC 215, carjacking is defined, essentially, as car theft where the owner or person in possession of the car is present when the car is taken. California law considers this a form of robbery. It is always a felony, and if convicted, you could be sentenced to years in prison. Under federal law (18 U.S.C.A. § 2119), which typically comes into play when the vehicle crosses state lines, carjacking is generally punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If a serious injury or death results, the potential penalty is even higher.
While we noted earlier that GTA is a wobbler, it is usually charged as a felony.
An important aspect of grand theft auto is that it is a specific intent crime. This means that the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the car was not yours; that you knew the vehicle did not belong to you (or that you did not have permission to use it); and that you intended to deprive the owner of the use of the vehicle permanently or for an extended period. Failure to prove any of these allegations will lead to a dismissal or a not guilty verdict.
Alternatively, even assuming you knew you were taking another person’s car without permission, but planned on returning it, the appropriate charge could (as noted above) be joyriding, generally treated less harshly than GTA. Finally, as in all criminal cases, evidence revealed by an illegal search and seizure, including one where a warrant was required by was not obtained, could lead to evidence being disallowed, which could also lead to a dismissal.
Most grand theft auto charges can be filed as either misdemeanors or felonies. The charge can also be confused with other offenses, leading to a more serious charge than is warranted under the circumstances of your case. Do not let the prosecutor determine your fate. If you are facing a GTA charge, contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer today.
At our firm, we know the law and we understand how to make sure that you are afforded representation that will lead to the best result available under the circumstances. Contact us today at 619-577-0868.