Updated June 7, 2020
California Penal Code 666.5 PC is a statute that increases the penalties for repeat offenses of auto theft. This is a sentencing enhancement statute that increases the fines and jail time, if a person is convicted of auto theft for a second or subsequent time.
666.5 PC states that “(a) Every person who, having been previously convicted of a violation of Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, or grand theft involving an automobile… or grand theft involving a motor vehicle…[and] is subsequently convicted of any of these offenses shall be punished by imprisonment…for two, three, or four years, or a fine of ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both the fine and the imprisonment.”
First offenses of grand theft auto carry a sentencing range of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.
Under 666.5, however, subsequent convictions carry a range of 2 years, 3 years, or 4 years.
This is often referred to as “grand theft auto with a prior.”
1. What is auto theft?
Auto theft is the crime of stealing someone else’s car.
The vast majority of auto theft crimes in California are either:
- Grand theft auto (Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC),1
- Joyriding (Vehicle Code 10851 VC),2 or
- Receiving or buying a stolen vehicle (Penal Code 496d PC).3
Grand theft auto and joyriding prohibit the same course of conduct:
- driving or taking someone else’s vehicle,
- without the consent of the owner, and
- with the intent to deny the owner the possession of their vehicle.4
The difference between joyriding and grand theft auto is the length of the deprivation. Joyriding deprives the owner of their vehicle temporarily. Grand theft auto deprives the owner permanently.
2. What is auto theft with a prior under PC 666.5?
A person who has already been convicted of an auto theft offense will face the sentencing enhancement in Cal PC 666.5 if he is charged with auto theft again.
This sentencing enhancement applies even if the defendant did not go to jail for their prior offense.
3. What are some examples of auto theft?
- Jumping in someone else’s Corvette and driving away, never to return,
- Jumping on someone else’s speed boat and going around the lake before returning it, and
- Buying a recreational vehicle, knowing that had been stolen.
4. Are there similar offenses?
There are several related offenses. Some are:
- Petty theft with a prior (Penal Code 666 PC). This law enhances the penalties for subsequent convictions of petty theft. That offense involves $950 or less.
- Carjacking (Penal Code 215 PC). This law prohibits taking someone else’s car through force or fear.
- Auto burglary (Penal Code 459 PC). This is the crime of breaking into a locked vehicle with the intent to steal the car or something in it.
5. What are some legal defenses to the charge?
People accused of auto theft with a prior may assert legal defenses. These include:
- the prior offense was not auto theft, and
- the prior offense was for auto theft, but was sealed or expunged.
Defendants can also fight the current auto theft charge. Common legal defenses include showing that:
- the owner of the vehicle consented,
- the defendant didn’t know the vehicle was stolen, and
- the defendant reasonably believed that the car belonged to her.
6. What are the penalties of a conviction?
Defendants accused of auto theft for a second time will face penalties enhanced by PC 666.5. A second offense of grand theft auto will always be a felony. The potential jail time increases. Penalties include:
- up to $10,000 in fines, and/or
- 2, 3, or 4 years in jail.
Judges have the discretion to suspend the jail time and impose probation with little or no custody time.
- California Penal Code 487 PC: “Grand theft is theft committed in any of the following cases… (d) When the property taken is any of the following… (1) An automobile.”
- California Vehicle Code 10851, which punishes “any person who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle, whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle, or any person who is a party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing.”
- California Penal Code 496d, which punishes anyone “who buys or receives any motor vehicle…that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be stolen or obtained.”
- California Criminal Jury Instructions 1820.