Joyriding Law - California Vehicle Code VC 10851

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

Media often underplays the seriousness of taking one's vehicle without consent. Sure, sneaking out in the middle of the night and driving your parents' car to fetch your date seems fun, but it is actually a crime that could put you up to 3 years behind bars.

This crime is called joyriding and is prosecutable under California Vehicle Code VC 10851. It is understandable why others would confuse this to grand theft auto. However, joyriding and grand theft auto are actually two very distinct crimes, wherein the differences are:

  • Grand theft auto usually involves the intent to steal the vehicle permanently, whereas joyriding often only involves the intent to deprive the owner of his/her possession of the car temporarily
  • Grand theft auto is generally motivated by fraudulent factors (i.e., stealing the vehicle to re-sell it) while joyriding has no particular goal other than the thrill, pleasure, or enjoyment of doing so (i.e., “borrowing” your friend's car for a quick road trip)

In other words, the “joyrider” does not necessarily intend to keep the vehicle for personal or illegal matters. While joyriding usually does not involve intentions to permanently keep the car, it still happens in some cases. It depends on the facts of your case if there's any depth or seriousness to your motivations in your unauthorized use of the vehicle. If you wanted to hide the car permanently from your friend as a “prank”, that could lead to a joyriding charge instead of a GTA charge. Often, the act of using the car without the owner's permission is the only crime that is committed by the joyrider. Meanwhile, grand theft auto suspects rarely have the intention to return the property back to its owner. Nevertheless, both joyriding and GTA are considered theft-related crimes.

Also, it is essential to take note that even passengers of the car can be convicted guilty of joyriding especially if they knew that the car was being used without the consent of the owner.

Furthermore, common examples of joyriding are:

  • Taking a cyclist's bike in order to run away from your date;
  • After knowing that your boyfriend is cheating on you, you use his car without permission to take your friends out on a road trip across the state;
  • Hot-wiring your friend's car to catch up to your business meeting;
  • Driving your dad's Tesla without his consent just to show it off to your friends; and
  • Forcefully removing the owner from his/her car to “test-drive” the vehicle around the neighborhood

Penalties for Joyriding in California

While joyriding is most definitely a less serious crime than grand theft auto in terms of intent, that does not mean that the penalties are any different. There have been many unfortunate cases where lives were taken due to reckless driving using a stolen vehicle. This is attributed to the fact that most suspects of joyriding are typically young adults or teenagers who have not yet fully understood the consequences of their actions. For this reason, joyriding may be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony.

It is often ruled as a misdemeanor if the suspect has a reasonably clean criminal record and did not cause any serious bodily injuries or damage to any property. If so, the penalties are as follows:

  • A maximum county jail sentence of 1 year, and/or
  • A fine not exceeding $5,000

Meanwhile, it is often ruled as a felony if the suspect takes a vehicle that is for government-related purposes only (i.e., a police car) and has been a convicted felon in the past for related offenses. If so, the penalties are as follows:

  • Either 2, 3, or 4 years imprisonment for a vehicle solely for official state use but 16 months, 2, or 3 years for a vehicle used by an ordinary citizen, and/or
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

Legal Defenses for Joyriding

Some might say it is harsh to have very serious or severe consequences for a crime that arises out of very petty reasons. However, these very petty reasons may also put other people's lives at risk especially if the suspect does not know how to drive and is only doing so for the laughs. If you're currently facing a joyriding charge, it is empirical that you seek help from a criminal defense attorney immediately. They will discuss the following defenses that you may possibly use to challenge your case:

  • You are the rightful owner of the car;
  • You had the owner's consent; and
  • You were blackmailed, threatened, or forced to do such an act

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