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Grand theft auto under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC and joyriding under Vehicle Code 10851 VC are technically wobblers under California law.
This means that they both may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on (1) the circumstance of your case, and (2) whether you have any prior convictions for this or other offenses.
Practically, Grand Theft Auto under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC is usually charged as a
felony. A conviction of a felony for GTA carries a potential jail sentence of sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years.
In contrast, Vehicle Code 10851 VC, unlawful taking of a vehicle, (joy riding) is usually charged as a misdemeanor for first offenses. The potential penalties include a fine of up to five thousand dollars ($5,000), imprisonment in the county jail for up to one (1) year, or both.
The difference between Grand Theft Auto and joy riding is the length of time that a person intends to have possession of the vehicle. If the person took the car for a short time and left it in the area where the person took the car from, then it MAY be considered "joy riding" and charged as a misdemeanor. However, if the person took the vehicle with the intention of NOT returning the vehicle, or with the intention of keeping the vehicle for a long period of time, then it is likely that the person would be charged with the felony Grand Theft Auto.
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