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Understanding Grand Theft Auto | LegalMatch Law Library

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What is Grand Theft Auto?

Grand theft auto (GTA) is a serious crime that involves stealing a vehicle with the intent of keeping it permanently. Stealing a car for the purpose of taking it around the block, or joyriding, would not be considered grand theft auto. If a person were to steal the vehicle and then go on to sell any part of it, then a charge of grand theft auto is likely.

The following elements must be present for a grand theft auto conviction:

  1. The defendant took or drove the vehicle;
  2. The vehicle was not the property of the defendant;
  3. The vehicle’s owner did not give the defendant permission or consent to take or drive the vehicle; and
  4. The defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.

Notably, most jurisdictions include other vehicles under the umbrella of grand theft auto, including: motorcycles, boats, recreational vehicles (RV’s), and campers.

How is Grand Theft Auto Different from Carjacking?

Though grand theft auto and carjacking both involve the theft of a vehicle, they differ in that carjacking involves violence. Grand theft auto occurs without violence and usually when the owner is not present. Carjacking is forceful, and a defendant who commits this crime can be charged with robbery. The crime of carjacking can also take place if the vehicle was taken through fear and intimidation.

What are the Likely Consequences of Grand Theft Auto?

In many states, grand theft auto is considered a wobbler. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and it can depend on the circumstances of the case as well as if the defendant had any prior convictions. The penalties for a GTA conviction vary and may include any of the following:

  • Prison;
  • Community service;
  • Probation;
  • Restitution paid to the victim; and/or
  • Fines.

Ultimately, the severity of the punishment depends on the facts of the case and on the judgment from the court. If other crimes were committed in the commission of grand theft auto, they can be added to the charge. For instance, if the defendant broke into the victim’s garage to steal the car, they may be charged with home burglary.

What are the Legal Defenses for Grand Theft Auto?

In order to disprove a charge of GTA, it is imperative for the defense to negate the two main elements that are considered for a GTA conviction.

  • Intent: If it can be proven that the defendant did not intend to permanently keep the car, they may be liable for a joyriding charge instead.
  • Consent: If the owner of the vehicle gave consent to the defendant to be in possession of the property, a GTA conviction is not likely.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

If you are facing grand theft auto or joyriding charges, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. These are serious crimes that can drastically affect your future, and a qualified lawyer can help explain your rights, build your case, and represent your best interests in court.

Photo of page author Sarah Tipton

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 04-15-2018 08:20 PM PDT

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