Auto Theft with a Prior - PC 666.5

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Penal Code Article & Definition 

California Penal Code 666.5 is a sentencing enhancement statute. It does not include elements for the crime of “auto theft,” only the elements for how to prove a conviction when the defendant has committed and been convicted of other auto thefts in the past. 

A sentencing enhancement increases the fines and jail time that defendants can face, if convicted of a second or subsequent auto theft. 

Auto Theft Defined 

To put it simply, auto theft is the crime of stealing someone else’s vehicle. 

In California, the majority of auto thefts are charged as either: grand theft auto, joyriding, or receiving or buying a stolen vehicle. 

Grand theft auto and joyriding both prohibit the driving or taking of someone else’s vehicle, without the owner’s consent, and with the intent to deny the owner possession of their vehicle. 

The only difference between grand theft auto and joyriding is the length of time in which the vehicle is taken. In joyriding, the deprivation is temporary. In grand theft auto, the deprivation is permanent. 

All three of these crimes are subject to the Penal Code 666.5 sentencing enhancements 

Penalties in Comparison to First Offender Auto Theft 

The jail time that can be sentenced for a first conviction auto theft is anywhere from 16 months to three years. 

Under 666.5, subsequent convictions can increase that range of jail time from two to four years. This is often referred to as Grand Theft Auto with a prior. 

Additionally, for a second or subsequent auto theft conviction, you can be sentenced to pay a fine up to $10,000, plus the jail time. 

Even if you were not sentenced to jail time for the first conviction for auto theft, Penal Code 666.5 still applies and the jail time will increase. 

Examples of Auto Theft 

Some examples of auto theft include: 

  • Jumping in someone else’s car and driving away, never to return 
  • Jumping on someone else’s speed boat and going around the lake, before returning it
  • Buying a recreational vehicle, knowing that it had been stolen 

Legal Defenses 

There are legal defenses to fight both the current auto theft, as well as to fight the auto theft with a prior sentencing enhancement. 

For the auto theft charge itself, legal defenses include: 

  • Owner of the vehicle consented 
  • The defendant did not know the vehicle was stolen before purchasing it 
  • The defendant reasonably believed the car belonged to him/her

For the auto theft with a prior sentencing enhancement, legal defenses include: 

  • The prior offense was not an auto theft 
  • The prior offense was for auto theft, but it was sealed or expunged 

Whether you and your attorney decide to fight the underlying auto theft or the sentencing enhancement charge, there are options that can decrease your conviction and/or the sentence you must serve.