Many people are familiar with the phrase “grand theft auto,” because it is the name of a popular video game. Others may have heard the phrase on TV shows or in movies that feature high-speed car chases. Of course, most people understand that grand theft auto involves stealing a motor vehicle, but the severity of this criminal act is often not so clear.

So if you are ever charged with having stolen a car, what are the possible penalties the law may impose? Well, the fact is that there are many variables that could determine your potential punishment.

For example, in California, an auto theft could be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. If you are charged with misdemeanor auto theft, you likely won’t be facing more than a year in a county jail. However, if you should be convicted of felony auto theft, you could be sent to a state prison for anywhere from one year to life.

The difference between being charged with a misdemeanor or felony auto theft is often related to the value of the car that was allegedly stolen. Typically, in California, the theft of property that has a value more than $950 is a felony crime. However, a state statute allows that the theft of a cheaper car may also be prosecuted as a felony.

It is also possible that the location of the theft or the defendant’s previous criminal record can be factors when formulating penalties. Moreover, prosecutors are granted leeway in deciding whether a specific car theft case is a felony.

If you have been arrested on auto theft charges, you could likely use the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney could build a defense strategy aimed at protecting your rights and limiting the severity of your possible penalties