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Name: People v. Chubback
Case #: E071274
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 12/11/2019

Defendant’s driving of a motorized device designed to move shipping containers and used within a storage yard qualified as vehicle driving and taking under Vehicle Code section 10851. Police responded to a report of an unauthorized individual driving a motorized device used to move shipping containers within the storage yard of a business. Police discovered defendant inside the device. Based on this act, he was convicted of unlawful taking or driving a vehicle. (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a).) On appeal he argued the motorized equipment he allegedly drove or took does not qualify as a “vehicle” under section 10851. Held: Affirmed. Vehicle Code section 670 governs the meaning of “vehicle” for purposes of section 10851 and defines a vehicle as “a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.” Defendant argued the device at issue was designed for the purpose of moving storage bins, traveled at low speeds, and was not normally used for driving upon a highway. However, the equipment had the potential of being driven on the highway, despite its characteristics and common usage. It qualified as a vehicle within the meaning of the code.

Sufficient evidence supported defendant’s conviction for driving or taking the vehicle. Defendant argued the evidence did not support either a “taking” or a “driving” theory under section 10851 because the vehicle never left the storage yard. The Court of Appeal disagreed. It is true that the unlawful driving provisions of section 10851 were intended to prohibit the offense formerly known as “joyriding,” which is the unauthorized temporary use or operation of a vehicle. However, the statute does not provide exceptions in cases where the vehicle is operated only in a confined area, for a short amount of time, or is quickly returned to the owner. Thus, the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction under the unlawful driving prong of section 10851. The unlawful taking provisions of section 10851 are considered a form of theft. Asportation of the property with the intent to appropriate it is sufficient to constitute this offense even if the property is returned to the owner. Based on the totality of the evidence, defendant’s possession of the recently taken vehicle combined with his denial of having driven the vehicle in which he was located, was sufficient to sustain a conviction of violating section 10851 based on a taking theory. [Editor’s Note: The case was remanded to the trial court for resentencing in light of Senate Bill No. 136 (2019–2020 Reg. Sess.), after January 1, 2020.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: