While the crimes of grand theft auto and joyriding may seem like the same thing, there is an important distinction between the two. The amount of time that the thief intends to dispossess the owner of their vehicle makes all the difference.
Simply put: joyriding is when a person takes a car without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Grand theft auto (GTA) requires the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle.
How Do You Know What a Thief Intended?
Knowing whether a thief intended to permanently deprive an owner of the use of their car can usually be deduced based on the circumstances that lead to the discovery of the stolen vehicle.
The most common example of a joyriding situation involves a teenager taking their parents' car without permission. Clearly, the child plans to return the car before their parents can find out, but under the law, it is still considered joyriding. Usually, when a car thief intends to joyride, the vehicle will be left on the side of the road, frequently in much worse condition and with unidentifiable odors.
When a vehicle is recovered during an attempted sale, at a chop-shop, or in the possession of the thief, logic dictates that the intent was to deprive the owner permanently.
What's the Charge?
Whether a GTA or joyriding indictment is charged as a felony or misdemeanor can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally, grand theft auto is considered a felony, and joyriding can go either way. Most, if not all, states can charge either crime as a felony. However, certain states, such as California, allow prosecutors the discretion to charge joyriding or GTA, if there is no, or little, damage to the vehicle and the value of the vehicle is very low, as a misdemeanor.
Either charge, even if charged as a misdemeanor, are very serious offenses that can have grave impacts on a person's life. Knowing your state's laws and having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side is highly recommended if you are facing GTA or joyriding charges.