Vehicle Code 10851(b)

VC 10851(b) – Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle

VC 10851(b) - Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle

Unlawful Driving of Emergency Vehicle – Table of Contents

VC 10851(b) – Overview

Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle CA Vehicle Code 10851(b) VC, is defined by the state as anyone who drives or takes an emergency vehicle without consent of the owner while the vehicle is responding to an emergency call, even if there is no intent to steal the vehicle. In other words, taking an ambulance while the vehicle is being used to respond to an emergency for a “joyride,” even with the intent of returning the emergency vehicle would be a crime under California Law.

Certainly, driving or taking any vehicle without the permission of the owner is a crime. However, under California law, the taking of an emergency vehicle while responding to an emergency is particularly serious and the punishment is greater simply because of the important functions of emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire department and law enforcement vehicles. The statute also prohibits the unauthorized driving or taking of a vehicle that has been modified for use by a disabled person that is clearly identified as such. Notably, acting as an accomplice or accessory can result in a conviction under VC 10851(b). In other words, you can be charged under VC 10851(b) even if you are not the driver.

VC 10851(b) – Sentencing

Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle in California is a felony because taking an emergency vehicle while it is responding to an emergency is considered to be a more serious crime than merely taking a vehicle, which falls under VC 10851(a), a misdemeanor. Therefore, a conviction under VC 10851(b) can result in:

  • custody in state prison for up to four years and/or
  • a fine up to $10,000.

An experienced defense attorney, however, can negotiate with the prosecutor and argue that the charge should be dropped if there is insufficient evidence or a valid defense. Moreover, an attorney can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor if there appears to be a strong case for conviction. In this case, a favorable resolution may be to plead guilty to VC 10851(a) which prohibits the taking or driving of a vehicle, a misdemeanor with the possible punishment of a fine up to $5,000 and/or up to one year in county jail. This sentence is significantly less than the punishment for a felony conviction under VC 10851(b).

VC 10851(b) – Prosecuting

In order for a conviction for VC 10851(b), Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle VC, the prosecutor has the burden to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. For a conviction under VC 23110(b), the prosecution must prove:

  • the vehicle was in fact an emergency vehicle under the statute
  • the emergency vehicle was responding to an emergency call, and the defendant knew or should have known that it was responding to an emergency
  • the defendant was not authorized to take or drive the vehicle, or was an accomplice to the taking or driving
  • the defendant intended to deprive the owner of title or possession, temporarily or permanently.

Notably, the statute does not require that the defendant intended to steal the emergency vehicle. In other words, taking the vehicle for a joyride with the intention of returning the vehicle is still prohibited under the statute. Also, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew the emergency vehicle was responding to an emergency, or that the defendant should have known. For example, if the emergency lights were flashing, the prosecutor will argue that the defendant had sufficient knowledge that the emergency vehicle was responding to an emergency. Similarly, anyone who aids the driver in taking the emergency vehicle can also be convicted under VC 10851(b).

VC 10851(b) – Defending

Laws can be confusing and an experienced attorney can explain the law to you, and more importantly help you determine a strong defense strategy. Furthermore, an attorney can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a case and persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges, or reduce a felony charge for unlawful taking of an emergency vehicle under VC 10851(b), to a misdemeanor under VC 10851(a) which would result in a significantly less severe punishment. Notably, an experienced criminal defense attorney will often have an existing professional relationship with the prosecutor which can often facilitate a favorable plea bargain.

According to the statute, the prosecutor must prove that the vehicle is protected under VC 10851(b). Specifically, the statute requires the vehicle be one of the following:

  • an ambulance (includes public or private vehicles authorized to respond to emergency calls)
  • a distinctly marked vehicle used by law enforcement or the fire department
  • a vehicle that has been modified for use by a disabled person and displaying a distinguishing license plate or placard.

Therefore, a defendant could argue that the vehicle was not protected under VC 20851(b), and an experienced defense attorney would present the facts to support this defense.
Another common defense to VC 10851(b), Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle, VC, is that the emergency vehicle was not, in fact, responding to an emergency call, or there was no reason that the defendant should have known that there was an emergency call. For example, the ambulance was parked with no flashing lights and there was nothing to suggest an emergency nearby. However, the prosecution may still be able prove a violation of VC 10851(a).

Other defenses that an attorney can argue based on a review of the facts include:

  • the law enforcement vehicle or fire department vehicle was not distinctly marked
  • the vehicle modified for use by a disabled person did not have a distinguishing license plate or placard
  • the owner gave consent to the defendant to take or drive the emergency vehicle.

Moreover, an attorney can ensure that law enforcement and the prosecutor have not made any errors and inadvertently violated a defendant’s constitutional rights.

Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle – Hire Us

If you or a loved one is being charged with VC 10851(b), Unlawful Taking or Driving of an Emergency Vehicle, we invite you to contact us immediately for a free case review. Schedule an appointment to meet with us in person, or feel free to submit an evaluation online and we will get in contact with you ASAP. We can provide a free consultation in our office located in Century City, or by phone. Our experienced and assiduous Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges completely.

Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

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