Today I am going to explain California’s law on the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle.
I often see this violation charged when there is a misunderstanding among two parties, such as using a rental car for a longer period than initially contracted or a person taking a car joyriding.
So let’s get started…
The unlawful taking of a vehicle is codified under vehicle code 10851 which is defined as driving or taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle1.
Watch this video to further understand vehicle code 10851.
To prove that you are guilty of this offense, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements2.
- The defendant took or drove someone else’s vehicle without the owner’s consent.
- When the defendant did so, he/she intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle for any period of time.
Note: Possession of the vehicle is enough for the prosecutor to prove intent3.
The main difference between these two charges is the defendant’s intent.
If the defendant intended to permanently keep another’s car or to keep it for a long enough time that would deprive the owner of the substantial value of the car, then you have committed Grand Theft Auto under Penal Code section 487(d)(1).
If, on the other hand, your intent was only to take the car for a quick ride and bring it right back, you will be guilty of Unlawful Taking or Driving a Vehicle under Vehicle Code section 10851.
There are three primary legal defenses for the unlawful taking of a vehicle.
They include the following:
You Had No Intent to Deprive the Owner of The Vehicle for Any Time:
If a defendant can show that he/she had no intent to deprive the owner of the car for any time, the defendant will not be guilty of the offense.
Taking/Driving a Car that (You Believe) Belongs to You:
If you had a good faith belief that the car you were taking/driving actually belongs to you, you are not guilty of the offense.
You Had Consent/Permission:
If the owner of the car consented to your use of the car and/or gave you permission to drive the car, you have a valid defense.
However, consent on a previous occasion cannot be presumed by the defendant. For example, if your neighbor let you borrow his car a month ago you cannot presume that you can just walk to the car and borrow it again4.
This is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor Penalty For Vehicle Code 10851:
- It is punished by 1 year in the county jail and/or
- A $5,000 fine5.
Felony Penalty For Vehicle Code 10851:
- 16 months, two years, or 3 years in state prison6.
Penalty Enhancements Include:
If the defendant took a police vehicle, fire truck, ambulance or has a prior felony conviction under vehicle code 10851 then the penalties increase in the following manner7.
- Fine up to $10,000
- Jail of 2, 3 or 4 years8
If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about how attorneys charge.
If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.
If you would like to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.
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- Vehicle Code 10851; (1)Any person who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle, whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle, or any person who is a party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. (2) If the vehicle is (1) an ambulance, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 165, (2) a distinctively marked vehicle of a law enforcement agency or fire department, taken while the ambulance or vehicle is on an emergency call and this fact is known to the person driving or taking, or any person who is party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing, or (3) a vehicle which has been modified for the use of a disabled veteran or any other disabled person and which displays a distinguishing license plate or placard issued pursuant to Section 22511.5 or 22511.9 and this fact is known or should reasonably have been known to the person driving or taking, or any person who is party or an accessory in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing, the offense is a felony punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, three, or four years or by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. (3) In any prosecution for a violation of subdivision (a) or (b), the consent of the owner of a vehicle to its taking or driving shall not in any case be presumed or implied because of the owner’s consent on a previous occasion to the taking or driving of the vehicle by the same or a different person. (4) The existence of any fact which makes subdivision (b) applicable shall be alleged in the accusatory pleading, and either admitted by the defendant in open court, or found to be true by the jury trying the issue of guilt or by the court where guilt is established by plea of guilty or nolo contendere or by trial by the court sitting without a jury. (5) Any person who has been convicted of one or more previous felony violations of this section, or felony grand theft of a vehicle in violation of subdivision (d) of Section 487 of the Penal Code, former subdivision (3) of Section 487 of the Penal Code, as that section read prior to being amended by Section 4 of Chapter 1125 of the Statutes of 1993, or Section 487h of the Penal Code, is punishable as set forth in Section 666.5 of the Penal Code. The existence of any fact that would bring a person under Section 666.5 of the Penal Code shall be alleged in the information or indictment and either admitted by the defendant in open court, or found to be true by the jury trying the issue of guilt or by the court where guilt is established by plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or by trial by the court sitting without a jury [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851: Theft and unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle [↩]
- People v. Clifton (1985), 171 Cal. App. 3d 195 [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851(c) VC [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851(a) VC [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851(a) VC [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851(b) VC. Important note; for a conviction under this penalty enhancement the defendant must have known that the vehicle was one of the those listed above. [↩]
- California Vehicle Code 10851 VC. [↩]