California Vehicle Code § 10851(B) VC: Unlawful Taking Or Driving Of An Emergency Vehicle

1. Definition and Elements of the Crimemotor vehicle theft

While the unauthorized taking or driving of a vehicle is itself a serious crime, when the vehicle in question is an ambulance, law enforcement vehicle or fire department vehicle, the potential penalties are even more severe. Under California Vehicle Code Section 10851(b) VC, the unlawful taking or driving of an emergency or modified vehicle is an offense that requires jail for anyone convicted.

In order to prove that the defendant is guilty of unlawfully taking or driving an emergency vehicle, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant stole or drove without authorization an ambulance, a distinctively marked law enforcement vehicle or fire department vehicle or a vehicle modified for the use of a disabled person
  2. OR the defendant is party to, an accessory to or an accomplice in the unauthorized driving or taking of an ambulance, a distinctively marked law enforcement vehicle or fire department vehicle or a vehicle modified for the use of a disabled person.
  3. The defendant knew or reasonable should have known that the vehicle was on an emergency call or that the vehicle had been modified for the use of a disabled person
  4. The modified vehicle displayed either a distinguishing license plate or placard.
2. Related Offenses

Other similar or related offenses include:

  1. Unauthorized Taking or Driving of a Vehicle - California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC
  2. Grand Theft Auto California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC
3. Examples

A man is walking through his neighborhood when he notices an ambulance with its lights flashing parked in front of his neighbor’s home. The man notices that no one is inside the ambulance, as EMT personnel are inside the home providing medical assistance. The man has always wanted to drive an ambulance so he gets into the driver’s seat and drives around the block. This man would be guilty of the unlawful taking or driving of an emergency vehicle in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 10851(b) VC.

In another example, a man notices that his neighbor, who is a police officer, has left a police cruiser in his driveway. The man decides to take the cruiser on a joyride without any authorization. This man would not be criminally liable under California Vehicle Code Section 10851(b) VC, as the cruiser was not on an emergency call when the man took it. However, he could still be prosecuted for the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle under California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC.

In a final example, a group of teenagers come across a modified van intended for disabled people. The van has a disabled placard in the window. The teenagers enter the vehicle and take it out for a joyride. The teenagers could be prosecuted under California Vehicle Code Section 10851(b) VC as modified vehicles intended for disabled persons fall under this statute.

4. Defenses to Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle

As discussed above, the emergency vehicle must have been on an emergency call when it was taken for a person to be criminally liable under California Vehicle Code Section 10851(b) VC.

In addition, if the modified vehicle did not display a distinguishing plate or placard showing that it is intended for the use of disabled person, the defendant would not be guilty of this offense.

5. Penalties

The unlawful taking or driving of an emergency vehicle is a “wobbler” offense, which can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If convicted of this offense as a felony, the maximum penalty is four years in prison. If convicted of the misdemeanor offense, the defendant could be sentenced to serve up to a year in jail. The statute requires that the defendant be sentenced to at least 90 days in county jail as a minimum.

6. Criminal Defense for Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle Cases

If you have been charged with unlawfully taking or driving an emergency vehicle, it is very important that you consult with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer right away. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is uniquely able to fight these charges on behalf of his clients.

For more information about unlawful taking or driving of an emergency vehicle, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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