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Auto Theft with Prior

Penal Code 666.5 PC - Auto Theft with a Prior in California

Auto theft remains a significant problem in California and across the United States. With the introduction of California Penal Code 666.5 PC, the state has sought to crack down on repeat offenders by enhancing the penalties for those convicted of auto theft with a prior offense.

In other words, this statute is a sentencing enhancement that increases the fines and jail time if someone is convicted of auto theft for a second or subsequent time.

Auto Theft with a Prior in California – Penal Code 666.5 PC
Penal Code 666.5 PC is a sentencing enhancement increasing penalties for auto theft with a prior.

This means that Penal Code 666.5 PC is not a crime by itself but increases the penalties for other charges, such as Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto, Vehicle Code 10851 joyriding, and Penal Code 496d buying or receiving a stolen vehicle. 

PC 666.5 says, “(a) Every person who, having been previously convicted of a felony violation of Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, or felony grand theft involving an automobile in violation of subdivision (d) of Section 487… or felony grand theft involving a motor vehicle, as defined in Section 415 of the Vehicle Code… or a felony violation of Section 496d… shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170….”

PC 666.5 will only apply if someone has a past conviction for car theft on their record. If you're convicted of a felony auto theft crime, and it's not your first offense, you could face up to 4 years in prison and fines up to $10,000 under PC 666.5. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

Understanding PC 666.5

Under PC 666.5, individuals previously convicted of a felony vehicle theft offense can face increased penalties if they are convicted of vehicle theft again.

Auto Theft in California
PC 666.5 penalizes repeat auto theft offenders.

This law aims to deter repeat offenders and protect the public from vehicle theft's social and economic consequences. To be convicted under Penal Code 666.5, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  • You were previously convicted of felony vehicle theft, such as auto theft (joyriding) under Vehicle Code 10851 VC or grand theft auto under Penal Code 487(d)(1); and
  • You willfully committed a new felony vehicle theft offense.

Notably, the difference between VC 10851 joyriding and PC 487(d)(1) grand theft auto is the length of time in keeping the vehicle. Joyriding temporarily deprives the owner of their car, while grand theft auto deprives them permanently.

Other things to know about this law:

  • Vehicle theft refers to driving or taking a vehicle without the owner's permission or consent and with the intent of depriving them of possession, either temporarily or permanently. Both joyriding and grand theft auto fall under this description by California law.
  • You don't have to commit the same auto theft offense both times to be convicted under PC 666.5. For example, if your first offense was felony joyriding and your second offense was grand theft auto, you still qualify for the enhanced sentencing.
  • Under the phrasing of this law, PC 666.5 only applies to dual felony offenses. If one of the two offenses was a misdemeanor, a lesser sentencing enhancement under PC 666 would apply.
  • The sentencing enhancement applies even if you didn't serve prison time for your prior offense. So, for example, if you were convicted of grand theft auto the first time and were issued probation, you still qualify for the sentencing enhancement on the second conviction.
  • The related crimes include Penal Code 666 PC petty theft with a prior, Penal Code 459 PC auto burglary, and Penal Code 215 PC carjacking.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Bill steals a car to sell for parts (grand theft auto). He has a prior conviction of felony joyriding (VC 10851) for "borrowing" his next-door neighbor's Ferrari without permission. If convicted of the current crime, Bill qualifies for the stiffer sentence under PC 666.5 even though the two crimes were different.

EXAMPLE 2: Carol has a prior conviction for felony grand theft auto, but she is charged with misdemeanor joyriding this time. Carol will not qualify for sentencing enhancement under PC 666.5 because her second conviction was a misdemeanor. However, she may qualify for a lesser sentencing enhancement under PC 666.

EXAMPLE 3: Jane was previously convicted of felony vehicle theft but was granted probation. She is again charged with grand theft auto and qualifies for sentencing enhancement under PC 666.5, despite receiving a lesser punishment during her first offense.

What Are the Penalties for PC 666.5?

Penal Code 666.5 qualifies as a sentencing enhancement to deter vehicle theft recidivism. By comparison, a felony conviction for joyriding or grand theft auto may result in 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison. However, under PC 666.5, the sentence may include any or all of the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment: A felony conviction can result in two, three, or four years in state prison (as opposed to 16 months, two years, or three years.
  • Fines: The defendant may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Restitution: The court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim for any damages or losses suffered as a result of the crime.

However, the enhanced sentence is not automatic or mandatory. Even with a conviction under PC 666.5, the judge can still impose formal probation in place of prison time if circumstances warrant.

What Are the Defenses for PC 666.5?

A California criminal defense lawyer can employ several strategies to fight charges under 666.5 PC, as discussed below.

Defenses for Auto Theft with a Prior in California
Contact our law firm for help with your case.

Perhaps we can challenge the prior conviction. For example, your attorney may argue that the prior conviction was not for a felony auto theft-related offense or that the prior conviction was expunged or sealed.

Perhaps we can argue that there was no intent to commit theft. Depending on the facts of the case, your attorney may argue that you reasonably believed you had the owner's consent to take the car or that you didn't know the vehicle in question was stolen.

Perhaps we can negotiate for reduced charges. If your attorney can get the current felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor, you will no longer qualify for the enhanced penalty under PC 666.5.

Perhaps we can negotiate prefiling with the prosecutor to convince them not to file formal criminal charges in the first place (DA reject). You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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