Penalties for vehicle theft in California are distinguished according to Grand Theft Auto (GTA) (auto theft when the offender keeps the car permanently or for a substantial period of time) and Joyriding (unlawful taking of a vehicle for a short period of time) – two categories of vehicle theft. GTA is regulated by California law (Penal Code 487) and Joyriding is reviewed by the Vehicle Code 10851 VC.

According to Penal Code 487, Grand Theft Auto is a form of California Grand Theft and carries the same penalties as that crime. GTA is considered as a felony and can be punished by:

  • Sentencing up to three years imprisonment in state prison;
  • Restitution (repayment) for any damage to the car or for the owner’s loss to use of the car;
  • A fine of up to $10,000;
  • Both imprisonment and the fine.

As per the Vehicle Code 10851 VC, Joyriding can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Joyriding is usually considered as a misdemeanor for first offenders and are punished by:

  • Imprisonment up to one year in county or local jail
  • Restitution for damage or medical costs caused by the crime
  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • Both imprisonment and the fine.