Felony Defense Lawyer in Sacramento Discusses Grand Theft Auto Charges

What is Grand Theft Auto?

Grand theft auto is defined as motor vehicle theft and is the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle, typically an automobile. In most states, this crime is a felony and may result in imprisonment. If you or someone you know is arrested for grand theft auto, contact a felony defense lawyer in Sacramento immediately.

As with most crimes, theft is divided into various categories defined by severity. Petty theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor that results in up to one year in jail while grand thefts are typically felonies and punishable by a year or more in prison. The difference between petty and grand theft is generally how much the stolen property is worth, often with $500 being the border between categories. The exception to this is that the theft of an automobile is almost always considered grand theft, no matter the financial value of the car.

In California, grand theft auto is what is called a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. The circumstances surrounding the case as well as the defendant’s criminal history are taken into account when considering how to charge this crime. It is not unlikely for the defendant to face felony charges which is why it’s best to speak to a felony defense lawyer in Sacramento. The consequences of which include:

  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years
  • Restitution or repayment to the victim for any damage to the car as well as for the owner’s loss of use of the car
  • Fines adding of up to $10,000
  • Probation

Related Charges

Though the defendant may only be in trouble for a single incident of stealing a car, there are several related charges that can be tacked on. These additional charges would significantly increase jail time, fines, and other consequences if they were held up in court. A highly skilled felony defense lawyer in Sacramento will know how to mitigate the charges to get you the best outcome.

Theft and Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle

The taking of a motor vehicle, also called “joyriding” is a common charge to be tacked onto grand theft auto charges. Joyriding is similar to grand theft but instead of intending to permanently deprive the owner of his or her property, removing it from their possession for any amount of time can be considered joyriding. This crime is also a wobbler and thus can possibly be charged as an additional felony, which can be punished by:

  • Up to 3 years imprisonment
  • Fines of up to $5,000
  • Probation

Petty Theft With a Prior

If the defendant has a conviction that resulted in jail time for any theft charge (1) as well as a serious or violent crime (2), the defendant may be charged with “Petty Theft With a Prior.” This charge is a wobbler and thus may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony:

  • Petty theft, grand theft, auto theft, burglary, carjacking, robbery
  • Sexual violence, murder, gross vehicular manslaughter


If a person breaks into the car or breaks into the structure in which the vehicle is held in order to steal it, the defendant may face an additional charge of burglary.

When Taken By Force

If a person takes a vehicle from the owner by use of force, the person may be charged with robbery, assault, or carjacking. These crimes are typically felonies and may result in more severe punishments that strictly grand theft auto.

Proving Grand Theft Auto

In order to have a strong case against an individual for grand theft auto, the following must be shown:

  • The defendant took possession of or drove the vehicle – This can be done in a variety of ways, including stealing the keys or breaking into the car and hot-wiring it. If there is already a driver in the car when the theft occurs, this is considered carjacking and is a separate crime.
  • The vehicle belonged to a person other than the defendant
  • The defendant intended to deprive the vehicle’s owner of their property permanently

Defenses for Grand Theft Auto

There are several defenses that a skilled felony defense lawyer in Sacramento can use when their client faces grand theft auto charges. The most common defenses include:

  • Lack of intent – One of the things that must be proven in a grand theft auto is that the defendant intended to steal the property. Essentially saying the defendant did take the car but meant to return it would lower the charges to joyriding, which is less severe than theft.
  • Consent from the owner – If it can be shown that the owner granted the defendant permission to use the car, then there is no crime. The permission must be specific to the exact incident in question. This means that just because the owner said it was okay before doesn’t mean it was okay in this specific case.
  • Belief that the car belonged to the defendant – If the car actually did belong to the defendant or there was good reason to believe it did, then there is no basis for grand theft auto. This would indicate that you did not intend to deprive another person of their property, but to reclaim your own.
  • False accusation – If the defendant was wrongfully accused, a good attorney should be able to sift through the evidence and show that his or her client was framed, set up, or inaccurately accused.

Grand theft auto is a serious crime that can affect a person’s entire life and the lives of his or her loved ones. If you or a loved one have been charged with grand theft auto, contact an experienced and sympathetic felony defense lawyer in Sacramento today. Having someone who understands the law as well as the process of going through court can make a bad situation a little less terrible.

Call a Felony Defense Lawyer in Sacramento If You’ve Been Charged for Grand Theft Auto

Representing clients all throughout Northern California in criminal defense, the attorneys at Allaye Chan Law not only have the skills and experience in providing sound legal representation, but also the dedication and compassion to help during such a stressful time.

Give us a call at (916) 446-4400 to speak to a felony defense lawyer in Sacramento.