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Joyriding in Southern California

by Lindsay Chambers

Penal Code 487(d)(1) is the California statute defining vehicle theft, also known as grand theft auto. According to this section, it is a crime to take someone else’s vehicle, worth $950 or more, without the owner’s permission and with the intent to deprive them of their car. Prosecutors can charge this offense as a misdemeanor or a felony.

If you took a vehicle without the rightful owner’s consent and the prosecution cannot prove you intended to keep their car for a long period, it may be possible to have some grand theft auto charges reduced to joyriding charges. The primary difference between the two offenses lies in how long you planned to continue driving the car you took.

What Is Joyriding?

Vehicle Code 10851, also called the “joyriding criminal statute,” makes it unlawful for someone to drive or take another person’s vehicle without the vehicle owner’s explicit permission. If you steal a car in Southern California with the intent to keep it for yourself or sell it for parts, you are committing grand theft auto. In contrast, taking someone else’s car without their consent, driving it around for a little while, then leaving it in the same neighborhood where you found it would be joyriding.

For a vehicle theft to be grand theft auto, the prosecutor must prove you intended to steal the car permanently, or for a long enough period to deprive the owner of significant value or enjoyment of it. For a joyriding charge, you only need to keep the car for a short period. However, if you first obtained the owner’s permission to use their car, you are not guilty of joyriding under Vehicle Code 10851, even if you initially lied to them about why you wanted to borrow their vehicle. 

Joyriding Penalties in California

In the state of California, joyriding is a “wobbler,” meaning it could be either a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case and your criminal history.

  • If a judge rules that your joyriding case is a misdemeanor, you could face up to 12 months in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000 and informal probation.
  • For a felony joyriding conviction, you might need to pay a fine of up to $10,000 and serve up to three years in county jail. If you have a previous auto theft conviction on your record, your jail time could increase accordingly based on Penal Code 666.5 – Repeat Offenses of Auto Theft. 

Defend Yourself Against California Joyriding Charges

If you or a loved one is facing a joyriding charge in violation of Vehicle Code 10851, you should reach out to an experienced Southern California defense attorney as soon as possible. At the Law Office of Ron Brower, our award-winning attorneys will give your case the respect and attention it deserves and shield you from any unfortunate future consequences. To schedule your consultation today, call us at 714-997-4400 or complete our convenient online form

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