June 14, 2019 By Paul Wallin


California Vehicle Code 10851 defines vehicle theft as:
1.either taking or driving a vehicle belonging to another person
2.without the consent of the owner of the vehicle and
3.the defendant had the specific intent to deprive the owner either permanently or   temporarily of possession of the vehicle

Until California passed Proposition 47 in 2014, the crime of vehicle theft was considered a “wobbler” and could be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor–at the discretion of the District Attorney. Prop 47 made all theft crimes of where the stolen property was valued under $950 misdemeanors. Defendants who had previously been sentenced to felony charges where the value of the property taken was under $950 could petition the court to be resentenced to a lesser crime. In order to be resentenced the defendant must show that their charge was theft related, the value was under $950, and they had not committed a list of violent felonies.

California Underage DUI Laws

The case of People v. Lara presented the issue of whether vehicle theft under VC 10851 was always a theft related charge that is eligible for resentencing under proposition 47. The California Supreme Court held that not all violations of VC 10851 are theft related crimes eligible for resentencing under Proposition 47.

It distinguished between crimes where the defendant is accused of “taking” a vehicle–which are theft related offenses that should be re-classified under proposition 47, and crimes where the evidence shows the defendant was “driving” the vehicle; which the court held did not require that the Defendant actually committed a theft.

If the evidence shows that the defendant “took” the vehicle, the People are required to show that the vehicle’s value was over $950. If the evidence showed that the defendant “drove” the vehicle then the crime could be charged as a felony regardless of the value of the car.

In summary, if a person is charged with vehicle theft under 10851 and the prosecutor alleges the person was driving the vehicle, no evidence of the value of the vehicle needs to be presented. If the person is only accused of taking the vehicle, then the prosecutor must prove that the value of the vehicle is over $950.


Wallin & Klarich recently concluded a case in Orange County where our client was accused of “driving or taking” a 1995 Honda civic that had recently been reported stolen. The prosecutor attempted to argue that the value of the car was over $950 based on a Kelly Blue Book print out from the arresting officer that showed the car was valued at $1,000 and an estimate from the owner of the vehicle who said it was worth $1500.

We then set the case for a preliminary hearing where our experienced attorneys logged onto Kelly Blue Book’s website and get what we believed was a more accurate estimate of the vehicle’s value by inputting that the car was in “fair” condition due to the front bumper having fallen off, and inputting the correct mileage.

Wallin & Klarich attorneys also prepared to argue that the car owner’s estimate of value was not based on any specialized knowledge of motor vehicles and should not be considered as more persuasive than the Kelly Blue Book value.

Fortunately, on the date before the preliminary hearing, we were contacted by a new District Attorney assigned to the case, who had looked at our information and agreed to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.


If you or a loved one is or was charged with felony car theft it is important that you let one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys fight for you. Wallin & Klarich defense attorneys have more than 40 years of successful experience in working with people have their cases appealed, sentences reduced, and getting charges dismissed. Our dedicated and knowledgeable team of attorneys are ready to help review your case and discuss your options to restore your freedom.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free, no-obligation phone consultation. We will get through this together.

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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