California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC: Unlawful Taking Or Driving Of A Vehicle

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

auto theft

There are situations where a person takes or drives a vehicle belonging to someone else but does not intend to permanently steal the vehicle. This offense of unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC, more commonly referred to as joyriding, is considered to be less serious than grand theft auto under California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC. However, joyriding is still a criminal offense that can carry significant penalties for those convicted.

To prove a defendant is guilty of unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant took or drove someone else’s vehicle without the owner’s consent

  2. AND when the defendant did so, he or she intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle for any period of time.

In any prosecution for this offense, the fact that the owner of a vehicle may have previously consented to the defendant or another person taking or driving the vehicle would not be a defense to the crime of unlawful taking or driving of the vehicle for the current offense.

2. Related Offenses

Other similar or related offenses include:

  1. Grand Theft AutoCalifornia Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC
  2. Unlawful Taking of a Bicycle of VesselCalifornia Penal Code Section 499b PC

3. Examples

A man notices that his neighbor has purchased a brand new sports car, which he keeps parked in his driveway. One day the man notices the keys in the ignition of the vehicle and decides to take the car for a quick drive around the block. He does not intend to steal the vehicle, but only wants to see how it handles. The man would not be guilty of grand theft auto under California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC because he did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of his vehicle. However he could be prosecuted for unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle under California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC. Moving a vehicle for even a small distance without the owner’s consent would qualify as a taking under the joyriding statute.

In another example, a man has previously been given permission to borrow his friend’s car. One day, the man needs to borrow the car but cannot find his friend. The man knows where his friend keeps a spare key, so he takes the vehicle without the friend’s consent and returns the vehicle later that day. The man could be found guilty of unlawful taking of a vehicle and the fact that the friend had previously allowed him to use the vehicle would not be a defense.

4. Defenses to Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle

If the defendant had the owner’s permission or consent to take the vehicle on that specific occasion, he or she would not be guilty of this offense. Additionally, if the defendant had a legitimate claim of right to the vehicle, there would be no criminal liability.

There may be situations in which a person is required to temporarily borrow a vehicle due to a sudden emergency. In these situations, the defendant may have a valid necessity defense if he or she is charged criminally with unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle.

5. Penalties

Unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle is a “wobbler” offense that can be filed by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If filed as a felony, the maximum penalty one could receive is three years in prison. If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is a year in jail.

If the vehicle involved in the joyriding offense was an ambulance on an emergency call, a marked law enforcement or firefighting vehicle or a vehicle used for the transport of disabled persons, this offense is always a felony that is punishable by up to four years in prison.

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

If you or someone you know have been charged with unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle, it is very important that you meet with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who has both prosecuted and defended individuals charged with joyriding offenses. Mr. Kraut is renowned throughout the court system as a top-notch litigator who fights passionately on behalf of his clients.

For more information about unlawful taking or driving of a 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 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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