If you’re facing an arrest for an auto theft crime offense in Los Angeles, CA, it can be a highly traumatic experience, particularly if it’s your first time or you’re innocent. It’s essential to note that California has one of the highest property crime rates in the nation, and while some may perceive the state’s criminal code to be more relaxed than others, severe penalties exist for specific theft offenses.
Understand California Theft Laws
Theft in California comes in different forms, including auto theft, and is categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense based on severity. This classification, known as wobblers, is determined by the value of the stolen property. Petty theft is a misdemeanor and applies to property worth under $950, while grand theft, which applies to property valued over $950, can be a misdemeanor or a felony. Auto theft cases, in particular, usually lean towards felony prosecution for most defendants.
Grand theft auto is a serious offense in California and involves the unlawful and intentional taking of another person’s vehicle by force, deception, or coercion. To prove the case, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant intended to keep the vehicle and move it, even if only a short distance. The vehicle’s value is a critical factor in determining whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. If the car is highly valuable, or if the defendant used harmful conduct while taking the vehicle, felony prosecution is highly probable.
Potential Penalties For Auto Theft Conviction in Los Angeles, CA
If a person commits petty theft that qualifies as a misdemeanor in California, they could face up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, the defendant may be liable for civil damages caused to the owner of the vehicle. Misdemeanor-level grand theft carries similar penalties, including restitution or compensatory damages to the vehicle’s owner. If convicted of felony-level grand theft, the defendant could face imprisonment in state prison for at least 16 months, a much higher fine, and additional penalties at the judge’s discretion.
The method of stealing a car can also impact the severity of sentencing in California. For instance, if a defendant uses a firearm during a carjacking, they may face additional felony charges for weapons violations in addition to grand theft auto. On the other hand, if a defendant takes someone else’s vehicle without permission for their own temporary use, it is considered joyriding. While joyriding typically results in less severe penalties than grand theft auto, it can still be charged as a felony in California
Auto theft defendants in California who steal police or emergency response vehicles may face more severe penalties than those who steal privately owned vehicles. If a vehicle is stolen from a veteran, disabled individual, or elderly person in Los Angeles, enhanced penalties may also apply. In cases of organized auto theft, participants may face charges related to the receipt and sale of stolen property, forgery of official vehicle records, and other related charges. The use of violence, weapons, deception, and intimidation are all aggravating factors that can enhance the defendant’s sentence.
Defenses Against Auto Theft Charges
In an auto theft case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle to secure a conviction. However, there may be several options available to fight the case, such as proving a lack of intent to steal the vehicle permanently. If wrongfully accused, it may also be possible to demonstrate mistaken ownership or a fraudulent car buying scam. The defenses available depend on the individual details of each case. Some possible defenses include:
- Lack of intent: In order to secure a conviction for auto theft, the prosecution must prove that you intended to permanently deprive the vehicle’s owner of their property. If you can show that you did not have the intent to steal the car permanently, you may be able to avoid a conviction.
- Mistaken ownership: If you genuinely believed that the car belonged to you or that you had permission to use it, you may be able to use this as a defense.
- Fraudulent car buying scam: If you were unknowingly involved in a fraudulent car buying scheme, and the car you took was actually stolen, you may be able to argue that you did not know you were committing a crime.
- Duress: If you were forced or coerced into stealing the car under threat of harm, you may be able to use the defense of duress.
- Insufficient evidence: If the prosecution’s case against you is weak and there is insufficient evidence to prove that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, you may be able to get the charges dropped or reduced.
Even if you are aware that you committed auto theft and broke the law, seeking legal representation can still be beneficial for your case. For a first-time offender facing overwhelming evidence, plea bargaining may be a viable option. Your criminal defense attorney may recommend taking a plea bargain as it can potentially reduce the severity of the penalties you could face. This approach typically involves pleading guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence and/or reduced charges. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer to explore all available options and determine the best course of action for your specific case. The following includes some of the various criminal charges relating to auto theft that are frequently charged by prosecutors:
Grand Theft Auto
Grand theft auto, as defined in California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC, is a form of theft that specifically involves stealing a car. This crime can take several forms, such as failing to make payments or return a car that was rented or purchased, borrowing a car and not returning it, or simply breaking into a car and driving away. However, if force or threat was used to take the car, prosecutors are more likely to charge the defendant with the more serious offense of carjacking under California Penal Code Section 215 PC.
In certain cases, a car may be taken unlawfully, but the offense is not classified as grand theft auto. In cases of joyriding, for example, the defendant may take a vehicle but without intending to permanently deprive the owner of it. As per California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC, a defendant can be found guilty if they took a car with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of possession, no matter how short the duration. Joyriding is a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony. However, if the vehicle taken was an ambulance, marked law enforcement vehicle, firefighting vehicle, or a vehicle used for transporting disabled persons, then this offense is automatically a felony.
Owning or Operating a Chop Shop
The theft of cars is often committed for the purpose of selling their parts in the after-market, which is why “chop shops” exist. These illicit establishments disassemble stolen vehicles and sell their individual parts. Specialized law enforcement units are tasked with identifying and pursuing the proprietors of these shops, as they play a key role in making stolen vehicles unidentifiable. California Vehicle Code Section 10801 VC criminalizes the operation or ownership of chop shops and is considered a “wobbler,” meaning it can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case.
Auto Insurance Fraud
Auto insurance fraud is a serious crime that can be closely linked to auto theft. In some cases, individuals may falsely claim that their vehicle has been stolen in order to collect insurance money. Insurance companies have in-house investigators who are dedicated to detecting and prosecuting fraud. There are also specialized units within prosecutorial agencies that focus solely on prosecuting these types of cases. Depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, auto insurance fraud can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Tampering with a Vehicle
California Vehicle Code 10852 defines the crime of tampering with a vehicle. Specifically, this law makes it illegal to tamper with, damage, or break into a vehicle without the owner’s consent. This can include stealing a car, damaging a vehicle’s ignition, or breaking into a car to steal items from inside. The penalty for violating California Vehicle Code 10852 can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the circumstances of the crime. It’s important to note that California Vehicle Code 10852 only applies to actions taken without the owner’s consent. If the owner has given permission for someone to use or access their vehicle, then no crime has been committed under this law.
Hire Los Angeles Auto Theft Crime Defense Lawyer
While the burden of proof lies with the prosecution in an auto theft case, it’s crucial to actively defend yourself against the charges. If you’ve been wrongly accused of auto theft in Los Angeles, it’s recommended to consult with a skilled lawyer. There are several reasons why hiring a Los Angeles auto theft defense lawyer is crucial if you are facing auto theft charges:
- Expertise and Experience: An experienced auto theft defense attorney has the knowledge and expertise to navigate the legal system, including the complex and ever-changing laws surrounding auto theft. They also have experience with similar cases and can draw on that experience to build a strong defense for you.
- Protection of Your Rights: A defense attorney will ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. They will make sure that you are not unfairly coerced into making statements that could be used against you in court, and they will ensure that any evidence used against you was obtained legally.
- Building a Strong Defense: A skilled defense lawyer can help build a strong defense on your behalf. They can review the evidence against you, investigate the circumstances surrounding your case, and identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. This can lead to reduced charges or even a dismissal of your case.
- Negotiating a Plea Deal: In some cases, a plea deal may be the best option to avoid the worst penalties you face. A defense attorney can negotiate with the prosecution to secure a plea deal that reduces your charges and/or sentence.
- Peace of Mind: Finally, hiring a defense attorney can give you peace of mind during a stressful and uncertain time. They can provide guidance and support throughout the legal process and work tirelessly to protect your rights and freedom.
Overall, hiring a Los Angeles auto theft defense lawyer is crucial to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome in your case.
Tabibnia Law Firm is here to defend you with its extensive legal expertise and resources. With a proven track record of successfully defending clients against a range of criminal charges in Los Angeles County, our firm knows how local prosecutors approach these cases and can develop effective defense strategies tailored to your specific situation. We understand that navigating the criminal justice system can be overwhelming, and we’re here to guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have. Our top priority as your Los Angeles theft crime defense lawyer is to protect your rights and seek dismissal or acquittal of your case whenever possible, or guide you through a plea bargaining process if necessary. Regardless of how your case unfolds, we’ll ensure that your rights are respected throughout the entire process.
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