January 20, 2020 3:50 pm Published by

Joyriding, also known as taking an owner’s vehicle without their consent, 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. The crime of joyriding is defined under California Vehicle Code 10851.

Rather, it would instead expose you to time in county jail, which is obviously a difficult sentence to complete because the county jail in Los Angeles county is extremely overcrowded and you’d be put in with a population of people — a lot of whom have committed very serious crimes and have been convicted and sentenced to prison but are serving their prison sentence in county jail.

Joyriding Can Be Charged As Misdemeanor or Felony Crime

Joyriding is a crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.  Usually I see if someone takes another person’s vehicle without a consent, I see it charged as a felony and not a misdemeanor.

A lot of times 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, and 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, let’s say 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 intent 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 owner of the vehicle 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? Consequences of a Joyriding Conviction in California

No.  So, now they’re meeting the elements of the crime to be able to show that the individual took the vehicle without the owner’s consent. See CALCRIM 1820 Jury Instructions, unlawful taking or driving of vehicle.

Another big issue in these cases is whether the person actually had the intent to permanently deprive the individual of the vehicle.  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 vehicle, having the vehicle chopped up for its parts to be able to sell it.  If that’s the situation, that would be a much more serious situation than a joy-riding case.

So, if you’re charged with joyriding — taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, any type of vehicle theft-related offense, worse case scenario, 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 realistically, is to sit down with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with these type of cases because they can get all of the information that is necessary in order to evaluate your case and make a decision as to whether or not you’re in fact 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, obviously the prosecutors are not going to be happy about that and are going to charge you accordingly and are going to punish you accordingly.

Also, if they get the car back and there’s a bunch of damage to it, they’re going to want restitution in that case and if you can’t pay the restitution 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 long jail sentence and till order you to pay the restitution.

But if 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, that can be used as a bargaining chip in trying to negotiate a successful resolution in the case.

In other words, the prosecutor are looking in these theft crime, joy-riding cases to make the victim whole, to  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 car 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 to get a sentence that maybe we can reduce down to a misdemeanor and eventually get dismissed after the probationary period is over.

If on the other hand, we’re looking to fight our joy-riding case, obviously we’re going to need to have a good defense.  Maybe we need to show that we’re not the one who took the vehicle.

Maybe we can show that the other person gave us consent or permission to use the vehicle and maybe 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 the vehicle.

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 the person was using the car and 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 car.

Don’t charge the credit card anymore if the person is using 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 have an argument that they do have the consent and permission of the rental car company.

So, I can think of a lot of different scenarios in these joy-riding or theft-related cases that somebody can get arrested and charged.  I can also think of a lot of different 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 and we review the discovery in the case, which is the witness statements, the police report, and then we really sit down and talk about the best way to do damage control and mitigate your joy-riding case.

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