California “Grand Theft Auto” Laws

California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1)

Below I will explain California grand theft auto law which is prosecuted under penal code 487(d)(1) pc.

Let’s begin…

What is Grand Theft Auto?

California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) — California’s law on Grand Theft Auto defines the crime as the intentional taking away of a motor vehicle that belongs to someone else.

→  In addition to a charge for “grand theft auto,” car theft can also result in charges for the “Theft and Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle” , also known as “joyriding” pursuant to California’s Vehicle Code Section 10851.


Enrique stole a car, wanting to sell it for parts, but when his friend told him about the potential consequences of getting caught, Enrique changed his mind and drove the stolen car to a secluded area and left it there.

Even though Enrique did not keep the car or sell it for parts, he can be charged with “grand theft auto” under Penal Code Section 487(d)(1), because he deprived the owner of the substantial value of the car and enjoyment thereof.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove Grand Theft Auto?

To prove that you are guilty of “grand theft auto” by larceny, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1

  • You took a car that belongs to someone else;
  • Without the owner’s permission;
  • When you took the car, you intended either to:
  • deprive the owner of it permanently, or
  • take it away from the owner for a long enough time that the owner would be deprived of a substantial portion of the value or enjoyment of it;


  •  You moved the car, even if only a very short distance, and kept it for a period of time, no matter how brief.

Aside from grand theft by larceny, there are several other ways in which a defendant can steal a car, including:

  • Using “false pretenses” to convince the owner to turn over possession and ownership of a car to you;
  • Using a “trick” to convince the owner to turn over possession of a car to you;
  • Using “embezzlement” to take a car that has been entrusted to you by the owner due to a relationship of trust between you and the owner of the car.

How Can You Fight Grand Theft Auto Charges?

The most common defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to defend you from a charge of “grand theft auto” are as follows:

Lack of Intent to Steal:  Intent is one of the requisite elements that a prosecutor has to show in order to convict of a theft crime.  If you did not have intent to steal in the first place, you are not guilty of grand theft.


If you merely meant to borrow the car and bring it right back to its owner, an experienced attorney will try to show that you had no intent to steal the car and that at most you are guilty of “joyriding” under Vehicle Code Section 10851, which is a less serious offense.

Consent From the Owner:  If the owner of the property that you allegedly stole gave you permission to take the property, you are not guilty of grand theft.


Peter’s neighbor gave him permission to use his convertible over the weekend to drive to the beach to impress his new girlfriend.  They did not agree on a time when Peter has to bring the car back and when Peter did not come home until late on Sunday night, the neighbor called the police and accused Peter of stealing the car.  Peter can use the defense of consent to show that he had the owner’s permission to use the car and that his intent was not to steal it, but only to borrow it.

Belief that the Car Belonged to You:  If the car actually belonged to you, or if you had a good faith belief (even if it was mistaken) that the car you took belonged to you, you are not guilty of grand theft auto.  The good faith belief shows that your intent was not to take the property; rather to claim or re-claim the car that you thought was rightfully yours.


Jane just purchased a car from a seller she met on Craigslist and was driving around in it until she was pulled over because as it turns out, the car was stolen from its rightful owner and Jane purchased a stolen car.  Because Jane had a good faith belief that the car she purchased now actually belongs to her, she may be able to use this belief as a defense to grand theft auto.

You Were Falsely Accused:  If you were wrongfully accused of taking someone else’s car, but you did not do so, or did not intent to do so, your criminal defense attorney will make sure to thoroughly investigate the evidence in your favor and to try to show that you were framed, set up, or wrongfully blamed for something you did not do.

What Are The Penalties & Punishment?

Under California Penal Code 487(d)(1), “grand theft auto” can be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony offense.  In other words, it is a “wobbler.”  The level of the penalty depends on the facts of the case and your criminal history.

But more likely than not, it is charged as a felony, and as such, you face a sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail; a fine of up to $10,000; or both.

Note: Proposition 47 which was passed on November 4th, 2014 reduced penalties for many theft crimes were the value of the proprty does not exceed $950. A grand theft auto of a vehicle valued no more than $950 is no longer a “wobbler” offense, it is now a misdemeanor2.

Penalty Enhancement For High Value Cars

California law provides for a penalty enhancement for expensive cars as follows.

  • If the car was worth more than $65,000 than one additional year is added to the sentence3
  • If the car is worth more than two hundred thousand dollars than an additional 2 years4

Related Offenses

Taking and Unlawful Driving of Vehicle:

If you did not have intent to permanently deprive the owner of the car of the value and/or enjoyment of the car, you may still be charged with a lesser offense of “taking and unlawful driving of a vehicle” under California Vehicle Code Section 10851.  This offense is also known as “joyriding.”

Pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 10851 Unlawful Taking or driving of a vehicle, if you took or drove a car that was not yours without the owner’s permission, and intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the car for any period of time, no matter how short, you may be guilty of Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle under Vehicle Code section 10851 also known as “joyriding.”

This is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  If charged as a misdemeanor, it is punished by 1 year in the county jail and/or a $5,000 fine.  If charged as a felony, the punishment is 16 months, two years, or 3 years in state prison.

Petty Theft With a Prior

If you have a prior grand theft auto on your record and are facing more charges, you may be charged with a petty theft with a prior pursuant to California Penal Code Section 666 – Petty Theft With a Prior.  This statute is triggered if you have been convicted three or more times of any of the following offenses (listed below), and you served time, you may face increased penalties for a petty theft conviction:

Theft Enhancement:

Pursuant to Penal Code Section 12022.6(a), if there are multiple charges of theft, whether grand or petty theft, and the aggregate loss exceeds any of the statutory minimums in California Penal Code Section 12022.6(a), and the thefts arise from a common scheme or plan, an additional prison term may be imposed.

If the aggregate loss exceeds statutory amounts ranging from $50,000 to $2.5 million, an additional term of one to four years may be imposed.5

Hiring An Attorney

If you would like to discuss a pending case with the Aizman law firm contact us at 818-351-9555 for a free consultation.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1): “Grand theft is theft committed in any of the following cases: When the property taken is any of the following: (1) An automobile.” []
  2. Details of Prop 47 changes:  See Ballotpedia. []
  3. California Penal Code 12022.6. (a)(1). []
  4. California Penal Code 12022.6. (a)(2). []
  5. Pen. Code, § 12022.6(a)(1)–(4); see People v. Daniel (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 168, 174–175 [193 Cal.Rptr. 277] . []


being charged with gta,

Hi Ben. I’m sorry to hear that. Give us a call to determine if this is something with which we can help.

Hi, I have a question. I bought a car from a private party, paid $3,100 cash, got the title signed off and notarized, plus a Bill of Sale. But can’t register it in my name because there is a hold on the title for an odometer discrepancy. I got caught driving it on 7 April. It got impounded for 30 days. The cop said to contact the person whose name is on the title, ask them to help get the car out of impound. I sent an email to the seller, but, never got a response. I went to the MVD in an attempt to try and register it again. They told me my title is no longer valid, because 2 titles were issued on April 12, and the car is not impounded. I called the seller and recorded him. He says, “it’s his car now, it doesn’t start, he had to tow it, it’s still in impound, he is out of state and not coming back, and says I never paid for the car therefore PayPal him buko bucks or he will donate the car and hangs up!” I called the police and got a report number for Theft by Fraud. Then, last week, me, my lawyer, and the seller met at the Police dept. with the detective. The seller wants money and says he has a map with instructions of where the car is. I don’t know where the car is or what condition it is in, so I don’t want to pay him any money. He stormed out and the cop says nothing. What is this called? I don’t think it is a civil matter!!! He has had my car for 2 months. I need my car.

Hi Cyn: You should demand to make a report with your local police department. If they refuse, ask to speak with the watch commander and make a formal complaint. I’m sorry you are dealing with this. Hopefully it resolves soon.

Hello, I have a question about the PC 10851(a) vc-f. I owed the vehicle they are charging me with. I have pink slip and registration is in my name. I had just moved and had no where to park the vehicle, so a so called friend said I could park it at his house. It and been there not even a week and I noticed it was gone. The agreement was that it was to be parked and not driven do to tags passed do and no insurance on it at the time. It was a couple of weeks and I found it sitting on the side of the road another 6-7 miles from where it should be. It was parked on a public street so I got in it and drove it home. A couple days later a couple of officer showed up. Asked me questions who the truck belong to and things. Next they put me in hand cuffs and arrested me on the 10851(a) vc-f as they was getting ready to put me in the car they searched me and found drugs and paraphernalia on me. So I was charged with that too. The officers got the arrest warrant for me on false information. The gentleman that was claiming my truck had a bill of sale no license plate number on it or vin number. Where I had pink slip and court documents that the truck was mine. While I sat in the officer car they allowed the gentleman to come ony property and take the truck with out showing them the bill of sale. They told my wife that if she didn’t give them the pink slip they would arrest her and call CPS because of are son. So she did put took a picture of front and back with officer holding it. When I was released from jail I went to them to make a report about my truck they wouldn’t take it at all. I went to dvm and got report on my truck and it hadn’t been reported stolen at all I have done other vin checks on it and still not coming up as stolen. I got dmv paperwork on the truck up tell the end of August. I was arrested on 6/5/2018. I am on my third lawyer do to conflict of interest of some of the people in the case. This has cost me jobs that I have applied for do to when they do a background it comes up. If they never got the arrest warrant on false information they would not of been at my home for anything else. I would not have been searched and they wouldn’t have found the drugs. I have been clean sense that day and trying to do right by my family. How can they charge me for my own vehicle? And then allowed the gentleman to take my truck that I did not sell to or give permission to anyone else to sell it on my behalf. Can you please maybe shed some light on this. I can’t find any case like this. Thank you for your time.

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