Southern California is well known for its car culture, with millions of motor vehicles on local roads and freeways at any given time. Of course, with this abundance of cars and other motor vehicles comes a higher than average rate of auto theft crimes that are committed daily in the region. Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors frequently go after those accused of committing auto theft and related charges. The following includes some of the various criminal charges relating to auto theft that are frequently charged by prosecutors:
1. Grand Theft Auto – California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC
Simply put, grand theft auto in violation of California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC is a theft offense where the item stolen is a car. There are a number of different ways that this crime can be committed. The defendant may be accused of agreeing to purchase or rent a car and then failing to make payments or return the vehicle. This offense may also occur when the defendant borrows a car from someone else but fails to ever return it. These cases can also simply involve someone breaking into a car and driving away with it. Grand theft auto typically will not be filed when the defendant is accused of taking another person’s vehicle by use of force or threat. In these cases, prosecutors are more likely to charge the more serious offense of carjacking in violation of California Penal Code Section 215 PC.
2. Joyriding – California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC
There are certain incidents where a vehicle may have unlawfully been taken however the offense is not considered grand theft auto. In many joyriding situations, the defendant may have taken a car but did not intend to permanently remove it from the vehicle’s owner. Under California Vehicle Code Section 10851 VC, a defendant can be convicted as long as he or she took a vehicle with the intent to deprive the owner of possession for any period of time, no matter how brief. Joyriding is usually a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, if the vehicle taken was an ambulance, marked law enforcement vehicle, firefighting vehicle or vehicle used to transport disabled persons, this crime is automatically a felony.
3. Owning or Operating a Chop Shop – California Vehicle Code Section 10801 VC
There is a large market for after-market vehicle parts and many car thieves function by selling the cars they steal to “chop shops” which can break down the car and sell its various component parts. Specialized law enforcement agencies are responsible for going after the proprietors of “chop shops” who assist in disassembling stolen vehicles and effectively making them unidentifiable. Under California Vehicle Code Section 10801 VC, owning or operating a chop shop is a “wobbler” and the prosecutor assigned to the case can file either felony or misdemeanor charges.
4. Auto Insurance Fraud – California Penal Code Section 548, 549, 550 and 551 PC
Another crime that may be closely related to auto theft is automobile insurance fraud. In some cases, a person may falsely claim that his or her vehicle has been stolen in order to collect insurance money. Insurers take these types of offenses very seriously and have teams of investigators working in-house to go after customers who they suspect may be committing insurance fraud. Additionally, this type of crime is so prevalent that there are specialized units in prosecutorial agencies whose sole responsibility is prosecuting these types of cases. Auto insurance fraud is a “wobbler” that can either be filed as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
If you or someone you know is currently being investigated for or have been charged with an auto theft crime, it is crucial that you discuss your situation with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who knows how to effectively defend those charged with auto theft crimes. In many instances, Mr. Kraut’s early involvement in a case before charges have been filed has led to charges being significantly reduced or even rejected.
For more information about Los Angeles auto theft crimes, 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.