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Criminal Defense Information for Vehicle Theft (Cal. Vehicle Code s. 10851)

  1. What is Vehicle Theft?
  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Vehicle Theft?
  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Vehicle Theft?
  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Vehicle Theft?
  1. What is Vehicle Theft?

    Man in mask trying to steal a car (vehicle theft, 10851)

    Man in mask trying to steal a car

    Vehicle theft (Cal. Veh. Code s. 10851 Opens in New Window) is the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner. The taking can be for any duration. The thief must simply intend to deprive the owner of possession of the vehicle for some period of time.

  2. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Vehicle Theft?

    To prove the defendant committed Vehicle Theft, the state must show that the defendant:

    1. Took someone else’s vehicle without permission; and
    2. Intended to deprive the owner of possession for any amount of time.
  3. What is the sentence / punishment for Vehicle Theft?

    Vehicle theft is a wobbler. It is punished by one year in the county jail and/or a $5,000 fine if it is a misdemeanor. If the court decides it is a felony, the punishment is 16 months, two years, or 3 years in state prison.

  4. What are possible defenses to charges of Vehicle Theft?

    To prove someone committed a crime, the state (through its prosecutors) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the crime. Therefore, defenses to any crime start with negating one or more of the elements of the crime. Additionally, some crimes allow for “affirmative” defenses which, if the defendant can prove the defense applies, will result in a verdict of “not guilty” even if the prosecutor proves the defendant met each of the elements of the crime.

    For Vehicle Theft, convincing the jury that the prosecutor failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the car for any amount of time would be enough to get a not guilty verdict.

    If the prosecutor can prove all the elements of Vehicle Theft, however, the defendant must prove that one or more justifications for his actions existed (i.e., it is the defendant’s burden to prove an affirmative defense). For Vehicle Theft, some of these justifications include:

    • Permission of the owner;
    • Alibi;
    • Duress / Threats;
    • Necessity;
    • Accident;
    • Entrapment; and
    • Statute of Limitations.
See also, RobberyCarjackingTheft of Emergency Vehicle.