Damaging someone's vehicle can have costly, sometimes even dire, consequences. At best, it may result in expensive repairs; at worst, it could endanger someone's life if the vehicle is rendered unsafe.
For this reason, it's a crime in California to get in or on someone's vehicle without their consent or to manipulate the controls to damage or deface it.
This crime is known as malicious mischief to a vehicle, defined under Vehicle Code 10853 VC, and if you're convicted, you could face up to 6 months in jail.
VC 10853 says, “No person shall with intent to commit any malicious mischief, injury, or other crime, climb into or upon a vehicle whether it is in motion or at rest, nor shall any person attempt to manipulate any of the levers, starting mechanism, brakes, or other mechanism or device of a vehicle while the same is at rest and unattended, nor shall any person set in motion any vehicle while the same is at rest and unattended.”
To prove a defendant is guilty of malicious mischief to a vehicle, the prosecutor must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, several elements of the crimes.
These include that the defendant climbed into or upon a vehicle, it was in motion or at rest, attempted to manipulate the levers, starting mechanism, brakes, or other mechanisms, and did so with the intent to commit malicious mischief. Let's review this state law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
Under California law, "malicious mischief" is defined as defacing, damaging, or destroying someone else's property without their consent.
Bearing this in mind, VC 10853 makes it a crime to do any of the following with intent to commit any malicious mischief, injury, or any other crime:
- To climb into or onto someone else's vehicle;
- To attempt to manipulate the levers, brakes, starting mechanism, or other mechanisms of the vehicle; AND/OR
- To set the vehicle in motion while it is at rest and unattended.
Note that this law is a crime of intention. In other words, you don't have to damage or deface the vehicle (i.e., commit malicious mischief) to be convicted. However, prosecutors must show that you intended to do the damage.
It should also be noted that VC 10853 applies to any items attached to the vehicle, such as license plates, rear-view mirrors, etc., so you may be charged with this crime if you maliciously deface or damage items such as these.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: As a prank, Daphne climbs into her neighbor's vehicle, parked on a sloped street. She manages to put the vehicle in neutral, release the parking brake, and exit it to watch it roll down the hill. Daphne can be charged under VC 10853 because her actions were intended to do damage.
EXAMPLE 2: After a fight with his girlfriend, Donald climbs up on the roof of her car and starts jumping up and down on it to try to dent the roof. Donald can be charged under VC 10853.
EXAMPLE 3: While leaving the grocery store, Eric accidentally mistakes someone else's similar-looking car for his own and hops into the driver's seat before realizing it isn't his car. In his haste to get out of the car, his keys tear into the vinyl seat. Eric will likely not be charged under VC 10853 because his actions were accidental, not malicious in intent.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several related crimes under California law involve similar actions with vehicles, and these may be charged either in tandem with or instead of VC 10853, including the following:
- Vehicle tampering defined under Vehicle Code 10852 VC: Tampering with or damaging a vehicle or parts of a vehicle without the owner's consent;
- Unauthorized use of a vehicle defined under Vehicle Code 10851 VC: Driving or taking a car without the owner's consent, which is often called “joyriding,” which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony;
- Vandalism defined under Penal Code 594 PC: Maliciously defacing or damaging property, which can include vehicles and their parts;
- Grand theft auto defined under Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC;
- Auto burglary defined under Penal Code 459 PC: This crime occurs when someone enters a locked vehicle or the trunk with intent to steal the car or property inside it or commit another felony crime once inside. Auto burglary in California is considered second-degree burglary.
What Are the Penalties for VC 10853?
Malicious mischief to a vehicle is charged as a misdemeanor in California. You could face up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000 if convicted. However, in some instances, and with the proper legal defense, the judge may sentence you to summary probation instead of jail time.
What Are the Defenses for VC 10853?
If you've been charged with malicious mischief to a vehicle, a good California criminal defense attorney can implement specific defense strategies to counter the charges, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had no malicious intent. Again, since a violation of VC 10853 is a crime of intent, the prosecutor's most significant challenge is to prove you intended to damage or deface the vehicle.
If your attorney can prove this was not your intent, or at least cast a reasonable doubt, you may be acquitted or have the charges dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that you had consent from the owner. Another key factor in proving VC 10853 is the lack of owner's permission.
If your attorney can show you entered the vehicle or manipulated the controls with the owner's knowledge and consent, you can't be convicted of malicious mischief to the car.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or a case dismissal. You can contact our law firm for a review of the case details by phone or using the contact form. We need to examine the facts to determine a strategy. Eisner Gorin LLI is located in Los Angeles, California.