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PC 666.5 Auto Theft with Prior Law, Punishment & Defense: Criminal Defense Attorneys Explain PC 666.5, VC 10851, & PC 487(D).

Information on the crime of auto theft with prior is found at California penal code section 666.5 PC. The following is a brief description of the law, punishment, and common defenses related to PC 666.5 charges. For further information, contact our California criminal defense attorneys.

PC 666.5 Law

PC 666.5 is penalty enhancement that is charged alongside a current vehicle theft, joyriding, or receipt of stolen vehicle charge.

For example, David is currently charged with vehicle theft (PC 487(D)). David has a prior vehicle theft from three years prior to the current charge; therefore, David will be charged with both the current vehicle theft (PC 487(D)) charge, along with a penalty enhancement of PC 666.5 (auto theft with prior) for his prior auto theft.

Prior Auto Theft Crimes

Per PC 666.5(a): Every person who has been previously convicted of a felony violation of VC 10851 (unauthorized use of vehicle), or felony grand theft involving an automobile in violation of PC 487(d) [Grand Theft Auto], or receipt of stolen vehicle in violation of PC 496(D), upon conviction for a current charge of a similar offense, is guilty of vehicle theft with prior (PC 666.5 Abbrev & Extrapolated).

Other Vessels: PC 666.5 may be charged where the defendant’s prior auto theft involved a vehicle other than a car or truck. In fact, any vehicle that is self-propelled, other than a motorized wheelchair, may qualify as a “vehicle” for purposes of auto theft, including a golf cart, motorcycle, quad, boat, tractor, and more.

Receipt of Stolen Auto: The defendant may also be charged with PC 666.5 if he or she was previously convicted of receiving a stolen automobile in violation of PC 496(D).

Example: Maria is charged with receiving a stolen vehicle (PC 496(D)). Maria was previously convicted of the same offense three years prior to her current offense. In this case, Maria may be charged with PC 496(D) for her current offense, and PC 666.5 (auto theft with prior) for her prior offense.

Violation of Probation: It is not uncommon for a defendant to face a new auto theft offense, a penalty enhancement of PC 666.5, and a probation violation all at the same time.

Example: George is convicted of grand theft auto (PC 487(D)) in July of 2022. He is placed on felony probation for three years as part of his sentence. In 2024, George takes a vehicle without the vehicle owner’s consent (VC 10851(a)). Result: George may be charge with the current offense (VC 10851(a)), the violation of probation for stealing a vehicle while on probation (PC 1203), and the penalty enhancement of PC 666.5 (auto theft with prior).

Felony Conviction Required: Per PC 666.5, the defendant may be charged with auto theft with prior if his prior vehicle theft crime was classified as a felony conviction.

Example: In 2022, Stan is convicted of misdemeanor joyriding in violation VC 10851(a). As a result, Stan is placed on one year summary probation, which he timely completes. In 2024, Stan is arrested for vehicle theft in violation of PC 487(D). Result: Stan’s prior vehicle theft crime (joyriding) may not be used to enhance his current vehicle theft sentence because Stan’s prior joyriding crime was classified as misdemeanor.

Example: Sally is currently charged with a misdemeanor violation of VC 10851(a) [unauthorized use of vehicle]. Sale was previously convicted of felony VC 10851(a). Result: Sally may be charged with the penalty enhancement of PC 6665 (auto theft with prior) even though she is currently charged with a misdemeanor offense.

Note: The difference between VC 10851(a) [unauthorized use of vehicle, aka “joyriding”] and PC 487(D) [grand theft auto (GTA)] is a matter of degree of deprivation to the owner. For more information, see VC 10851(a) as compared to PC 487(D).

Probation Sentence Prior: PC 666.5 applies even if the defendant was not incarcerated for his prior vehicle theft offense, so long as there is a conviction for the prior vehicle theft offense.

Example: In 2023, Bonnie is convicted of felony receipt of stolen property, a vehicle (PC 496(D)). Bonnie is placed on felony probation without jail time. In 2024, Bonnie is charged with unauthorized use of vehicle in violation of VC 10851(a). Result: Bonnie may be charged with auto theft with prior (PC 666.5) along with her current charge of VC 10851(a) because a felony probation sentence for a prior auto theft crime may be used to sustain a PC 666.5 allegation.

Related Crimes: It is common for auto theft with prior (PC 666.5) allegations to be charged in connection to other current offenses, including joyriding (PC VC 10851(a)), grand theft auto (PC 487(D)), carjacking (PC 215), receipt of stolen vehicle (PC 496(D)), operating a chop shop (VC 10801), breaking into vehicle without auto theft (PC 459 Auto Burglary), and more.

PC 666.5 Punishment

Jail Sentence: Per PC 666.5, a person convicted of auto theft with prior may face a two (2) year, three (3) year, or four (4) year jail sentence. This punishment is in addition to any punishment for the underlying vehicle theft offense.

Whether the defendant receives a two (2) year, three (3) year, or four (4) year jail sentence after a conviction for auto theft with prior, depends on the level of sophistication involved in the offense, the defendant’s criminal history (other than his history for auto theft), the negotiated terms of any plea bargain between the district attorney and the defense attorney, the harm caused to the victim of the defendant’s auto theft, and more.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to incarceration. A probation sentence is allowed after a conviction for PC 666.5, but it is rather rare because the defendant always has a felony conviction as part of his criminal history (i.e., the prior auth theft related crime).

In any event, a felony probation sentence may be granted depending on the circumstances surrounding the PC 666.5 allegation, including the defendant’s criminal history (other than his criminal history for auto theft related offenses), the level of sophistication used in connection to the crime, and more.

Jail Incarceration: If the defendant is incarcerated after a conviction for auto theft with prior, that incarceration will be served in a local county jail, as opposed to a California state prison. Also, any incarceration related to a PC 666.5 conviction may be served partially out of jail on work release (Split Jail Sentence), or not served at all subject to conditions of the court (Suspended Jail Sentence, aka “Joint Suspended Sentence”).

Non-Strike Offense: PC 666.5 is not classified as a violent or serious offense as those terms are defined in the penal code at PC 667.5 or PC 1192.7, respectively. Therefore, the crime of auto theft with prior is not classified as a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Law. Nevertheless, if the defendant has a prior felony conviction in his past, then that prior conviction may be used to enhance the current allegation’s related sentence. For more information, see PC 667.5, PC 1192.7, California Three Strikes Law, & Penalty Enhancements for Criminal Conduct.

Immigration Consequences: An auto theft with prior allegation is classified as a crime involving moral turpitude. A crime involving moral turpitude is any crime that involves theft or deceit, or otherwise involves immoral behavior. Crimes involving moral turpitude will have a severe negative impact for non-US citizens (deportation, denial of entry in the U.S., and denial naturalization). Non-U.S. citizens should talk to a criminal defense lawyer with deep knowledge of immigration consequences for criminal convictions when charged with any auto theft crime.

Other Penalties: In addition to any jail or work release sentence (or felony probation sentence) related to a conviction for PC 666.5, and the underlying vehicle theft offense, the defendant may face restitution to the car theft victim, criminal protective orders, court fines and penalties, professional licensing consequences, military service consequences, civil lawsuits (from auto theft victims), and more.

PC 666.5 Defenses

Every auto theft with prior allegation is based on different facts. Therefore, the defense that best fits a PC 666.5 allegation will be different from case to case. Most defenses related to auto theft with prior allegations include statute of limitations (3 years from the date of last vehicle theft in which to bring formal charges [Some exceptions may apply]), coerced confession, illegal search and seizure, entrapment, mistake of fact, and more.

Prior Offense Stricken: In some situations, a judge may strike the prior auto theft allegation where the interest of justice demands such a result (PC 1385). When the prior auto theft related offense is stricken from the current auto theft related charges, then the PC 666.5 allegation should be dismissed as well. For more information, see Romero Motion.

False Accusation: It is not uncommon for a defendant to be falsely accused of vehicle theft. This is a common occurrence where the defendant and the vehicle owner are related, or in a dating relationship, and the defendant has implied consent to take the vehicle, but then the vehicle owner claims that the vehicle was taken without express consent.

In these circumstances, the defendant may defend the current vehicle theft allegation, and his PC 666.5 penalty enhancement, with an implied consent defense (permission to take vehicle based on past consent with honest belief he still has that consent).

Example: Bonnie and Clyde are in a dating relationship. Bonnnie owns a vehicle that both Bonnie and Clyde use daily. One day, Bonnie and Clyde get in an argument and Clyde takes off in the car. As an act of revenge, Bonnie calls the police and reports her car stolen, even though Bonnie made no objection to Clyde taking the car during the argument. Result: Clyde will probably defend with implied consent because he believed he had consent to take the vehicle even though he was in an argument with Bonnie when he took the car.

Mistake of Fact: A mistake of fact defense applies where the defendant honestly believes in a set of circumstances, but the circumstances were not as the defendant believed them to be, and if those circumstances were as the defendant believed, the defendant action would not have amounted to criminal conduct.

Example: Julie takes a vehicle from the vehicle fleet from her job at a car rental company. Julie truly believed she was allowed to take the vehicle as part of her job description, but in fact, Julie was not authorized to use one of the vehicles from the fleet because of her prior vehicle theft conviction. Result: Julie may defend her current vehicle theft allegations, and her PC 666.5 penalty enhancement, with a mistake of fact defense.

Note: Mistake of fact defense is also common where the defendant truly believes that the vehicle he purchased was not stolen. Whether the defendant truly believes this may be based on objective facts, such as the details of the purchase (i.e., where the vehicle was purchased, if documents changed hands during purchase, the price paid for the vehicle, and more).

Expungement Not a Defense: An expunged prior conviction for an auto theft related offense does not help the defendant in his current PC 666.5 criminal charges. For more information on the limitations of expungement of criminal offenses, see PC 1203.4.

For more information on auto theft with prior crimes, or penal code 666.5, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys represent all vehicle theft related charges, including misdemeanor and felony violations of auto theft with prior (PC 666.5), carjacking (PC 215), joyriding (VC 10851(a)), grand theft auto (PC 487(D)), receipt of stolen vehicle (PC 496(D)), operating a chop shop (VC 10801) and more.

Our team represents defendants charged with auto theft related offenses in the cities and courts of Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Yucaipa, Banning, Riverside, San Bernardino, Chino, Ontario, Victorville, Upland, Fontana, Moreno Valley, Adelanto, and more. Call today!


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PC 666.5 Auto Theft with Prior


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