Can I reduce my V.C. Section 10851 felony conviction because the car was worth less than $950?

Stealing a clunker, but charged under the Vehicle Code, not the Penal Code: Tough luck.

In a word, no, but the argument in favor was a clever one. (People v. Page, 2015 DJDAR 11718, October 23, 2015.) The reasoning is a big tricky, but if you’re interested, here is how it goes.

Vehicle Code (V.C.) Section 10851 prohibits the taking or driving of a vehicle, with or without the intent to steal. The V.C law is a wobbler—that is, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. When a defendant takes a vehicle with the apparent intent to keep it, the prosecutor can charge under this Vehicle Code section or another law, grand theft auto, a felony (Penal Code section 487(d)(1)).

Mr. Page took a car, intending to keep it, and was charged with a felony under the Vehicle Code. Suppose he had been charged with the felony of grand theft auto, and assume the car was worth less than $950: Under Prop 47, he’d be entitled to a reduction to a misdemeanor, because Prop 47 specifically says that, despite what the grand theft auto Penal Code law says, theft of property worth less than $950 is now petty theft, a misdemeanor. But unfortunately for him, V.C. section 10851 was not among the specified offenses that can be reduced under Proposition 47. Page argued that because he could have been charged under the Vehicle Code, he should get the benefit of the “spirit” of Prop 47.

The appellate court didn’t buy it. The judges focused on the very specific language in the proposition, and noted that had the authors intended to give additional offenses the benefit of the law, they would have specifically done so. Prosecutors often have the discretion to charge under one law or the other, and absent proof of a nefarious plot to deny a defendant the benefit of a law that voters intended to apply to him, the appellate court was not about to invalidate the charging decision or extend a limited resentencing scheme to an additional crime.

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