Introduction

Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”) (California Penal Code section 487(d)(1)) and related crimes – namely Taking an Automobile Without Consent, a.k.a. “Joyriding” (California Vehicle Code section 10851) and Owning/Operating a “Chop Shop” (California Vehicle Code section 10801) – can result in felony convictions with years in prison as a sentence.

Even if you’re only convicted of a misdemeanor for any of these charges, you’ll still have a conviction for what’s called a crime of moral turpitude, which could ruin your future if you ever want to get a bank loan, obtain or maintain a professional license, enlist or continue to serve in the military, or obtain legal residency in the U.S.

Theft Crimes – “Wobblers” -- Grand Theft Auto, Joyriding & Chop Shop Crimes

California Penal Code section 487(d)(1) (Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”))

Typically, GTA is charged as a felony in California, though, but certainly not always. In other words, the prosecutor has the authority to charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor – i.e., a “Wobbler” (California Penal Code section 17(b)).

California Vehicle Code section 10851 (Taking an Automobile Without Consent, a.k.a. “Joyriding”)

Conversely, a successful Joyriding charge against you can also result in a felony or misdemeanor conviction, but typically the prosecutor will charge it as the latter.

That is, unless you’ve previously been convicted of felony Grand Theft (California Penal Code section 487), felony Grand Theft Auto, or felony Joyriding. In that case, you’ll be facing a new felony charge pursuant to California Penal Code section 666.5. See Vehicle Code section 10851(e).

California Vehicle Code section 10801 (Owning/Operating a “Chop Shop”)

This, too, is considered a Wobbler offense.

“Pre-File” Cases – the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

One of our specialties is heading off a criminal prosecution before charges are even filed – we call these cases “Pre-Files”. They work like this: first, you learn that you are the subject of a criminal investigation – typically because a detective from LAPD or LASD is questioning the purported victim (usually after he/she reports you for an alleged crime), and possibly other people you know as well. The detective may then be trying to question you.

When that happens, you should immediately lawyer up. Once you hire us, we immediately contact this detective to introduce ourselves and get an update on the investigation.

We also try to secure his/her promise to allow us to surrender you if an arrest warrant is issued to spare you the trauma of having the cops bust down your door and haul you off in cuffs before your terrorized family and horrified neighbors.

We then send him/her a letter of representation. Then, after conducting our own investigation, we present our exculpatory or mitigating evidence to him/her, so that he/she agrees that no crime has been committed and therefore decides the file should not be transferred to the DA’s Office for prosecution.

Oftentimes, even if the file has already been transferred, we are able to convince the prosecutor not to file charges or even to dismiss the case shortly after charges are filed.

As you can see from the examples below, as well as from our Case Results on our home page, we have enjoyed tremendous success in defeating all kinds of Pre-File cases, particularly those regarding Theft crimes, including Grand Theft.

California Statutes – Theft Crimes -- Grand Theft Auto, Joyriding & Chop Shop Crimes

California Penal Code section 487(d)(1) (Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”))

Pursuant to this statute, you can be charged with felony Grand Theft if you allegedly stole a vehicle, regardless of its value, with the intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive the owner thereof.

In other words, you can be charged for a felony even if it’s worth under $950, which is the benchmark between a felony charge of Grand Theft and a misdemeanor charge of Petty Theft (California Penal Code section 486; California Penal Code section 490.2).

California Vehicle Code section 10851 (Taking an Automobile Without Consent, a.k.a. “Joyriding”)

Pursuant to Vehicle Code section 10851(a), you can be charged for this offense if you allegedly drove or took somebody else’s automobile without his/her lawfully-obtained consent, and even if you never intended to steal the automobile.

You can also be charged hereunder if you were allegedly an accessory/accomplice to or otherwise had anything else to do with the unlawful taking of the vehicle.

To convict you, however, the prosecutor must prove that you intended to temporarily or permanently deprive him/her of the pink slip or possession of the automobile.

As stated above, the prosecutor can charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony for this offense. However, if you’ve previously been convicted of a felony under this specific provision, felony Grand Theft or felony Grand Theft Auto, then you will definitely be charged with a felony for this latest offense pursuant to California Penal Code section 666.5. See Veh. Code section 10851(e).

Please note that even if you had lawfully obtained consent from the owner on a previous occasion to take or drive the automobile does not give you the right to take the care in the current instance. Veh. Code section 10851(c).

California Vehicle Code section 10801 (Owning/Operating a “Chop Shop”)

You can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor if the prosecutor alleges that you willfully owned or ran a chop shop.

Theft Crimes Convictions -- Grand Theft Auto, Joyriding & Chop Shop Crimes

California Penal Code section 487(d)(1) (Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”))

If you’re convicted of felony Grand Theft Auto, you’ll face the following low, mid, or high-term prison sentences: one year and four months, twenty-four months, or thirty-six months.

See California Penal Code section 489 (punishments for felony Grand Theft conviction).

Otherwise, if you’re convicted of misdemeanor GTA, the worst you’ll get is twelve months in the county jail.

California Vehicle Code section 10851 (Taking an Automobile Without Consent, a.k.a. “Joyriding”)

As with the vast majority of misdemeanor convictions, misdemeanor Joyriding will get you a maximum of one year in the county jail. See Vehicle Code section 10851(a).

A felony conviction, however, could result in a prison term of 1.25 years, 2 years, or 3 years pursuant to California Penal Code section 1170(h)(1) (Felony Prison Term Not Specified).

The only exception is where you were previously convicted of a related felony as discussed above, in which case the new felony conviction for Joyriding/Taking an Automobile Without Consent can result in 24, 36, or 48 months in a state penitentiary pursuant to California Penal Code section 666.5.

California Vehicle Code section 10801 (Owning/Operating a “Chop Shop”)

Again, a misdemeanor conviction could result in a dozen months in the county lock-up, and a felony conviction could result in two-to-four years in a California penitentiary pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(h)(1).

Defenses to Theft Crimes Charges -- Grand Theft Auto, Joyriding & Chop Shop Crimes

According to the Judicial Council of California, the following are all valid defenses to the foregoing charges:

  • You sincerely thought that the automobile you allegedly stole actually belonged to you;

  • You had the owner’s lawfully-obtained consent to take the car or, alternatively, you sincerely believed you did (though you may have been mistaken);

  • You didn’t intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle when you took it or, alternatively, you only intended to take it for a very brief period of time (defense to GTA charge only);

  • You never actually moved the vehicle any length of distance;

  • You had no idea that your employees were running a chop shop out of your automobile repair business;

  • You never altered, destroyed, took apart, reassembled, or stored a stolen automobile or stolen automobile part;

  • You had no idea that the automobile or automobile part had been altered, destroyed, took apart, reassembled, or stored (or that the automobile or automobile part had been obtained by fraud or extortion).

Keep in mind that even if the owner had previously consented to you borrowing the vehicle, if you did so in the present instance without permission, you could still be convicted of GTA or Joyriding.

See Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 1820 (“Felony Unlawful Taking or Driving of Vehicle – Vehicle Code section 10851(a), (b)”).

See also CALCRIM number 1752 (“Owning or Operating a Chop Shop -- Vehicle Code section § 10801”); and

CALCRIM number 1863 (“Defense to Theft or Robbery: Claim of Right”).

But please keep in mind that the claim-of-right defense is only viable when you are trying to reclaim a specific piece of property – not a sum of money or to otherwise settle a perceived outstanding debt. See People v. Tufunga (1999) 21 Cal.4th 935, 945–950.

Example of a Theft Crime – Felony Grand Theft Auto (GTA)

Burglar on Parole Gets 17 Yrs. for Stealing Bentley from Celebrity Fitness Guru in Malibu

In early July 2012, somebody stole a one-year-old Bentley sedan from the Malibu home of trainer-to-the-stars Jillian Michaels.

The local Sheriff’s Dept. learned that the car thief, Mr. Gerjuan Harmon (age 29 at the time), had snuck into the home and stolen her purse (which contained her car keys) while Michaels, her husband, and their two young children were watching TV in another part of the house. It was only the next morning that she discovered both the burglary and the Bentley theft.

Unfortunately for Harmon, he was a parolee at the time of the burglary and GTA after having served a prison term for a prior burglary conviction – specifically, for Second-Degree Commercial Burglary (California Penal Code section 460(b)).

Even more unfortunately, he was arrested by Burbank PD two days later while driving the Bentley in the Valley after a sharp-eyed officer noticed that it matched the description of the stolen vehicle.

But even far more unfortunately for Harmon, the arrest didn’t occur until after he had roared off at a dangerously high speed in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. And by unsuccessful, we mean that he totaled the Bentley, hopped out, and ran away as far away as he could get before the pursuing cops tackled him.

As a result, he was charged with the following crimes:

(1) felony First-Degree Residential Burglary (California Penal Code section 460(a); California Penal Code section 459).

This is a Strike Offense under California Penal Code section 667(a)&(b)). See also California Penal Code section 1192.7(c) (“Serious Felonies”));

(2) felony Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”) (California Penal Code section 487(d)(1));

(3) felony Evading an Officer in a Vehicle (California Vehicle Code section 2800.2);

(4) misdemeanor Resisting Arrest (California Penal Code section 148); and

(5) misdemeanor Hit and Run with Property Damage but No Injuries (California Vehicle Code section 20002).

His lawyer put up a good fight at the (first) trial, which occurred in late 2013 -- the jury hung on the felony charges but convicted on the misdemeanors.

Harmon was retried six months later, but this time was convicted of the first two felony charges. In late September 2014, he received seventeen years in prison.

See: da.lacounty.gov.

Theft Crimes – Grand Theft Auto (GTA) -- Examples of Celebrity Cases

Conrad Hilton (Paris Hilton’s brother)

On or about May 5, 2017, Conrad Hilton (age 23), heir to the Hilton hotel fortune and Paris’ younger brother, stole a ten-year-old Bentley sedan from the Hollywood Hills home of his former romantic partner’s father, Rick Salomon. (Salomon is a professional poker player but is mostly famous for starring in the 2004 sex tape One Night In Paris with, of course, Ms. Hilton.)

Despite the fact that his ex, Hunter Salomon, had obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) (California Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6) against Conrad, he nevertheless drove the Bentley to another H.H. home to look for her. (It remains unclear whether he found her there.)

Not surprisingly, three days later, Conrad was arrested by LAPD and charged with felony Taking an Automobile Without Consent, a.k.a. “Joyriding” (California Vehicle Code section 10851), as well as for misdemeanor Violation of a Protective Order (California Penal Code section 273.6).

As a result, if convicted of both charges, he faced a total of three years in prison (for the felony) plus one year in jail.

See: da.lacounty.gov.

Thirteen months later, in early June 2018, Conrad accepted a nolo contendere plea to both charges. Although now a convicted felon, he received no jail time, 36 months’ formal probation, and was required to complete 52 weeks of psychological and drug counseling.

In addition, the court issued a (semi) Permanent Restraining Order (see, e.g., California Penal Code section 649.9(k) – Stalking R.O.) for 36 months.

See: pagesix.com.

John Travolta

On December 6 & 19, 2011, respectively, Mike Green (age fifty-eight) and David Rayford (fifty-two) were arrested for their alleged involvement in a GTA crew that was suspected of having stolen the classic 1970 Mercedes roadster of A-list actor John Travolta.

The roadster had been swiped three months earlier near the Santa Monica Mercedes dealership while Travolta was inside perusing new vehicles. When he emerged less than 15 minutes later, he discovered the theft. (The thieves had apparently hot-wired the roadster as Travolta had the keys on him at the time.)

A police spokesman claimed that CCTV footage plus anonymous tips from the public led to the two suspects, who had allegedly been targeting specific vintage automobiles. The spokesman also alleged that the GTA ring ran a chop shop, which was raided, and from which stolen auto parts were recovered.

And while the roadster itself was recovered, it had already been chopped up.

Shortly thereafter, in early January 2012, both men accepted nolo contendere pleas to eight counts of Grand Theft Auto (“GTA”) (California Penal Code section 487(d)(1)) based on the eight dismantled vehicles, including Travolta’s, police had recovered from the chop shop.

As a result, both men received one year and four months in state prison. Their restitution order included almost $60,000 owed to Travolta for the damage to his roadster.

Notably, both men had prior convictions for Robbery (California Penal Code section 211).

See: hollywoodreporter.com.

See also: nbclosangeles.com.

A Sampling of Theft Crimes – Grand Theft Cases Handled by the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

Pre-File: “Rudolph” Confessed to Felony Grand Theft After Arrest, 3 Years’ Max; Result: No Charge

People v. R.P. (Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, Aug. ‘13):

“Rudolph” hired us after he was apprehended by LAPD on suspicion of committing felony Grand Theft (California Penal Code section 487). If convicted, he would be looking at up to three years in a state penitentiary.

We initially were concerned that we weren’t going to be able to him because he had totally confessed to the detective interviewing him. But we immediately dived in and completed a thorough investigation.

Result: We worked out a “No-Charge” agreement with the detective and the purported victim wherein Rudolph agreed to fully repay the latter. Therefore, the case was never transferred to the DA’s Office.

Pre-File: “Paula” Caught on CCTV Shoplifting Expensive Purse, Charged with Grand Theft, 3 Years’ Max; Result: Informal Diversion, Case Dismissed

People v. P.W. (Airport Courthouse – Apr. ‘16):

“Paula” had only just graduated at the top of her class from an undergraduate program at a prestigious university, and had been accepted to multiple graduate programs at other top-ten colleges and universities. But her bright future was seriously jeopardized when she was arrested by detectives from the Beverly Hills Police Department after a video camera from Barney’s allegedly caught her shoplifting and exiting with a $4,000-plus purse.

In fact, by the time she hired us, the DA’s Office had already filed on her for felony Grand Theft.

As always, however, we jumped on the case and compiled a powerful and persuasive mitigation package, which included Paula’s offer to make full and immediate restitution to Barney’s.

We were even able to get the assigned detective on our side to help us convince the prosecutor to dismiss the case with prejudice (i.e., Paula could never be re-charged for this specific incident).

Result: She received Informal Diversion (California Penal Code section 1001.94; California Penal Code section 1001.95). She successfully completed it and her case was dismissed.

“Peter” Prosecuted for Grand Theft, 36 Mos.’ Max; Result: Informal Diversion & Dismissal

People v. P.M. (Airport Courthouse – Feb. ‘15):

“Peter” was arrested and prosecuted for felony Grand Theft and was therefore facing up to 36 months in prison. We attacked the case with everything we had, and were thereby able to convince the prosecutor that the arresting PD officers and witnesses all had serious credibility issues, and that the evidence against him was far from airtight.

Result: Informal Diversion, which included six weeks of volunteer work, after which case was dismissed.

The Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

As of the date of this writing, LADALF’s top Los Angeles criminal attorney Ninaz Saffari has been successfully defeating Grand Theft cases for 16.5 years, including just over four years as a Deputy Public Defender for the LA County PD’s Office, where she handled hundreds of Theft Crimes cases.