What Is Joyriding? The Defenses? The Punishment?

Joyriding is a temporary taking of a car or motorcycle (Vehicle Code § 10851), bicycle (Penal Code § 499b(a)), or boat (Penal Code § 499b(b)), without the owner’s permission.  The taking is generally thought to be for enjoyment only (hence the term “Joy”) and is often committed by juvenile males as a prank only.  When the use of the vehicle, bike or boat is no longer enjoyable, the user returns or intends to return the item to the owner.  Sometimes, the vehicle, bike or boat runs out of gas before it can be returned.
In a Nutshell:  Joyriding is generally considered a temporary taking of a vehicle for enjoyment only, with the return of the vehicle to the owner, as compared to grand theft auto when the suspect intends to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.  Nonetheless, it is a serious crime and can be punishable as a felony with up to three years in state prison (in a county jail under AB109).
In this regard, joyriding differs from theft because in theft, the intent is to permanently deprive the owner.  In contrast, the “joyrider” never intends to keep the vehicle, bike or boat, either for personal use or to sell it like a thief would.

Joyriding is usually filed as a misdemeanor, but it can be filed as a felony.  When committed by a juvenile, the case is brought to a juvenile court.  Often, the joyriding charge is just one of many charges in the case, which may also include DUI, petty theft, resisting arrest and evading a police officer.  Sometimes, in worse cases, there is property damage and personal injury involved.

Depending upon the juvenile’s age and prior record, as well as the severity of the case, including the duration of the taking, such cases are often resolved over time with a dismissal through a delayed entry of plea or delayed entry of judgment arrangement.  The juvenile, however, may serve time “home on probation” and may have to serve community service before receiving a dismissal.

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When the client is not a juvenile, prosecutors file the case according to what code section is violated.  When a violation of Vehicle Code § 10851 (car or motorcycle), Penal Code § 499b(a) (bicycle) or Penal Code § 499b(b) (boat) is alleged, a delayed entry of plea or delayed entry of judgment remains possible, especially if the client has no prior criminal history, is young, and the “victim” is not interested in prosecution, typically when the car, motorcycle, boat or bike is returned undamaged.  When we have client facing such charges, we encourage the client to take an online theft prevention course so that we can show the completion certificate to the prosecutor to begin plea bargain negotiations on a positive note.

The defenses to joyriding are the owner’s consent, but this is often unavailable because it is usually the owner who calls the police.  When the taking is for a very short period of time and/or a very short distance is traveled, it is possible to argue that the “taking” was too insignificant to merit a criminal action.  It must be cautioned here that even moving a car across a rather small parking lot can constitute joyriding.

When a car or motorcycle is taken, the case may also be filed as a violation of Vehicle Code § 10851, which is a “wobbler.”  This means the prosecutor has the option of filing the case as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending upon the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s age and the defendant’s criminal history.

For more information about theft crimes, click on the following articles:
  1. What Is Grand Theft Auto?
  2. What Is Tampering with a Vehicle (Vehicle Code § 10852)?
  3. The Police Did Not Read Me My Miranda Rights – Will My Case Be Dismissed?
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