California v. Van OrdenAnnotate this Case
This case involved the interplay between two criminal law statutes: Penal Code section 490.2 (petty theft) and Vehicle Code section 10851 (unlawful taking or driving a vehicle). Defendant Charles Van Orden appealed the trial court’s order denying his petition under the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47) to have his felony section 10851 conviction reduced to misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2. The State argued the trial court was correct in concluding section 10851 offenses did not qualify as petty theft offenses under any circumstances. Penal Code section 490.2 redefined the crime of petty theft as “obtaining any property by theft where the value of the . . . property taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).” Section 490.2 also directed any petty theft, so defined, would be punished as a misdemeanor. The issue on appeal was whether Van Orden’s conviction for violating section 10851, which criminalized the act of unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle, would have been a misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2 had Proposition 47 been in effect at the time of the offense. As the California Supreme Court explained, “[u]nlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession is a form of theft, and the taking may be accomplished by driving the vehicle away. For this reason, a defendant convicted under section 10851(a) of unlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession has suffered a theft conviction” and, it follows, must be punished under section 490.2 of petty theft. “On the other hand, unlawful driving of a vehicle is not a form of theft when the driving occurs or continues after the theft is complete (“ posttheft driving”).” Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that a conviction under section 10851(a) for posttheft driving is not a theft conviction, and need not be punished under section 490.2 as petty theft.