Unlawful Driving vs. Unlawful Taking of a Car: Legal Differences and Ramifications

Legal Differences and Ramifications In the realm of criminal law, the unauthorized use of a vehicle can take different forms, such as unlawful driving or unlawful taking. In California, the unauthorized driving or taking of a motor vehicle can have serious legal consequences. Although the phrases "unauthorized driving" and "unauthorized taking" might seem interchangeable at first glance, they have distinct legal implications and consequences.

Unlawful Driving of a Vehicle

Unlawful driving refers to the act of operating a motor vehicle without the owner's permission or a valid driver's license. California Vehicle Code Section 10851 makes it a crime to drive or use a vehicle without the owner's consent when the defendant has the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of their vehicle. This offense is commonly known as "joyriding."

Generally, joyriding is considered a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000. However, if the defendant has a prior conviction for unlawfully driving a vehicle, or the value of the car exceeds a certain threshold, the offense can be charged as a felony. Felony joyriding can result in a state prison sentence ranging from 16 months to three years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle

Unlawful taking of a vehicle, commonly referred to as "auto theft," involves the intentional and unlawful taking of someone else's vehicle without their consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. This offense is also governed by Vehicle Code section 10851.

Under California law, unlawfully taking a vehicle is considered a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. If the value of the vehicle exceeds $950, or if the defendant has a prior conviction for a serious or violent felony, the offense is automatically charged as a felony.

The penalties for unlawfully taking a vehicle vary depending on the circumstances and the defendant's criminal history. Misdemeanor auto theft carries a potential county jail sentence of up to one year, while felony grand theft auto can lead to a state prison sentence ranging from 16 months to three years.

Impact on Proposition 47 Eligibility

Proposition 47, also known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, was passed in California in 2014 to reduce certain nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The eligibility for Proposition 47 depends on the specific offense and the value of the stolen property.

Unlawfully driving a car, due to its temporary nature and lack of intent to permanently deprive the owner, is not eligible for Proposition 47 relief. Since Proposition 47 primarily aims to reclassify nonviolent offenses, unlawfully driving a car actually falls outside its scope.

However, because unlawfully taking a car constitutes a theft crime and involves the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle, unlawfully taking a car can be eligible for Proposition 47 reclassification under certain circumstances. If the value of the vehicle stolen does not exceed $950, the offense may be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. This reclassification can result in reduced penalties, including shorter jail sentences and lesser fines.

Ultimately, unlawfully driving and unlawfully taking a car are distinct offenses under California law, with varying legal consequences. If you have been charged with unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle, it is crucial critical that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut understands how to successfully defend clients against these charges. Furthermore, if you or a loved one has been convicted of unlawfully taking a vehicle, you may be eligible for resentencing. Michael Kraut has extensive experience filing and litigating post-conviction motions.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers 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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