Joyriding Can Be Charged As a Misdemeanor or Felony Crime. Joyriding, also known as taking an owner's vehicle without their consent and defined under California Vehicle Code 10851 VC, can have serious consequences. You used to be subject to potentially three years in prison, but now since Governor Brown has changed the prison and county jail system, a conviction for the theft crime of joy-riding would not expose you to prison.
Rather, it would instead expose you to time in county jail, which is a complex sentence to complete because the county jail in Los Angeles county is highly overcrowded. You'd be put in with a population of people — many of whom have committed grave crimes and have been convicted and sentenced to prison but are serving their prison sentence in county jail.
Joyriding is a crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Usually, if someone takes another person's vehicle without consent, I see it set as a felony and not a misdemeanor.
Often, I see these cases spring from individuals keeping rental cars too long, not communicating with the rental car company, not paying the rental car company's bill. So the rental car company indicates to the police that the person has violated their contract, and it appears they are trying to steal the vehicle.
The police then take a police report and, a lot of time, will put a warrant out for the arrest of the person who has the vehicle. So, that's one angle that I've seen charged under this Vehicle Code Section 10851. Also, somebody just sees a car with the keys in it, jumps in it, and decides to take it for a joy ride and has no intention of keeping it; that can also fall under the umbrella of taking a vehicle without the owner's consent.
Unlawful Taking or Driving of Vehicle – Vehicle Code 10851
When we do the preliminary hearings on felony cases in these cases, they always call the vehicle owner and say, do you see that person sitting over there? Yes. Did you give that person permission to take your car? No. Do you know that person?
No. So, now they're meeting the elements of the crime to show that the individual took the vehicle without the owner's consent. See CALCRIM 1820 Jury Instructions, unlawful taking or driving of the car. Another big issue in these cases is whether the person intended to deprive the individual of the vehicle permanently. Sometimes the person is just taking it for a joy ride.
They're either going to return it after their done, or they're just going to park it somewhere and leave. They have no intent on keeping the vehicle, selling the car, having the vehicle chopped up for its parts to sell it. That will be a much more difficult situation than a joy-riding case if that's the situation.
So, suppose you're charged with joyriding — taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, any vehicle theft-related offense, worst-case scenario. In that case, you're looking at a county jail sentence usually up to three years unless you're charged with other charges, or you have other convictions on your record that can enhance your sentence in the current case.
The best thing to do if you want to get a good idea of what you're facing is to sit down with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with these types of cases because they can get all of the information that is necessary to evaluate your case and make a decision as to whether or not you're facing a long custody sentence whether you're looking at community service, Cal Trans.
Defenses for Vehicle Code 10851 Joyriding Cases
Another huge thing in these theft-related offenses is (1) did the person get the car back? You steal somebody's car, and it disappears, and they never get it back. The prosecutors are not going to be happy about that and will charge you accordingly and punish you, therefore.
Also, suppose they get the car back, and there's a bunch of damage to it. In that case, they're going to want restitution, and if you can't pay the refund, then a lot of times they're going to take it out of your hide; meaning, they're going to try to sentence you to a lengthy jail sentence and till order you to pay the restitution.
But suppose, on the other hand, you can come up with any restitution related to the theft of a vehicle. If that's the case, that restitution is owing, which can be used as a bargaining chip to negotiate a successful resolution in the case. In other words, the prosecutor is looking in these joy-riding theft crime cases to make the victim whole and get them their car back. Get them their car back undamaged. If they're out-of-pocket any money because of the theft of the vehicle, make sure they get paid back.
If the defense can assist in that, we put ourselves in the best possible position to avoid jail time and get a sentence that maybe we can reduce down to a misdemeanor and eventually get dismissed after the probationary period is over. On the other hand, if we're looking to fight our joy-riding case, we're going to need to have a good defense. Maybe we need to show that we're not the ones who took the vehicle.
Maybe we can show that the other person gave us consent or permission to use the vehicle. Perhaps they tried to withdraw it or take it back but didn't communicate that to the defendant effectively, so the defendant reasonably thought they had the right to use it.
For example, in our rental car situation, I would think the rental car company would have a hard time proving no permission or consent if they were charging somebody's credit card while using the car. The person was all up to date in their payments, then how is it a theft case if they're getting the money for the vehicle.
Don't charge the credit card anymore if the person uses the car without your permission. Do a police report. But a lot of times, I see these rental car companies still charging the person, and if that's the case, the person may well argue that they do have the consent and permission of the rental car company.
So, I can think of many different scenarios in these joy-riding or theft-related cases where somebody can get arrested and charged. I can also think of many other defenses, but it depends on the particular circumstances of your case. That's why it's so important that we sit down and go over everything step by step. We review the discovery in the case, which is the witness statements the police report, and then we sit down and talk about the best way to do damage control and mitigate your joy-riding case.