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What are Auto Theft Crimes?

Auto theft crimes involve the unlawful taking of another person’s automobile.  This may include various types of vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, trucks, transport vehicles, and other types of automobiles.  In general, auto theft is a very serious crime that can result in either misdemeanor or felony charges. 

Auto theft results in very large losses to both consumers and industry producers every year.  Every state has laws aiming at both preventing and punishing auto theft crime.  A person commits auto theft when the following elements are met:

  • Unlawfully driving or taking a automobile belonging to another
  • Without the owner’s consent, and
  • With the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle 

Are There Different Types of Auto Theft Crimes?

Yes, there are many different types of auto theft crimes, each associated with different legal punishments and consequences.  The two most common types of auto theft crimes are grand theft auto and car jacking. Carjacking is a violent offense that involves the forceful taking of a car from a person.

Grand theft auto occurs when a person steals a parked, unmanned automobile.  This can happen in several ways, including breaking into the car and hotwiring it, entering an unlocked vehicle with the keys still in it, and other methods. Auto theft is a “wobbler” offense, meaning it may either be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the facts.

What if a Stolen Car is Used for a Crime?

A common aspect of many auto theft occurrences is that the theft may occur for purpose of committing other crimes.  A typical example of this is where a car is stolen in order to strip it down to its parts, and sell the parts in an illegal parts market.  Another example is where the car is used to transport illegal goods across state lines.

The use of a stolen car in a crime can sometimes create difficulties for the defendant in the case.  They may face multiple charges, and may have difficulties in raising defenses.  Also, repeat offenses can result in more severe legal consequences.  While these can present challenges in a criminal case, the assistance of a qualified lawyer can help the defendant during trial. 

What are the Penalties for an Auto Theft Crime?

Auto theft is a serious crime and the punishments for auto theft differ from state to state. In some states, auto theft is a “wobbler,” which means that the crime can be either a felony or misdemeanor depending on how the crime occurred and how the judge treats the charge.

If the crime is a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to one year in jail. A felony can be punishable by up to three years in county jail. There are also serious fines for the crime of auto theft. In some states, the crime of auto theft is subject to that state's Three Strikes Law.

What Are the Legal Defenses for Grand Theft Auto?

Auto theft as a crime can be negated if some of its elements are not met. The crime of auto theft requires that the defendant did not have consent from the owner to take and drive the vehicle and the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner. If these elements can be negated, then a defendant cannot be charged with the crime of auto theft.

Thus, the following can be used as defenses:

  • Intent: If the defendant took the car temporarily and intends to return the vehicle back to the owner after use, then the defendant has not committed the crime of theft of the vehicle, but may be liable for joyriding since owner never consented to defendant to take the vehicle.
  • Consent: If the owner of the vehicle gave permission or consented to the taking, then the defendant cannot be charged with grand theft auto since he did not have intent to permanently deprive owner and the owner allowed the act to occur.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Auto Theft Crime Laws?

Auto theft laws can be very different from state to state. Things can also get complicated if the stolen car is transferred across state lines.  If you need any legal assistance or representation, you may wish to hire a criminal defense lawyer.  our attorney can represent you in court and can provide you with legal guidance to help with your defense. 

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-11-2016 01:45 PM PDT

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