A serious auto crime is when a person drives a motor vehicle in a reckless and dangerous fashion. The term may also describe when a person uses a motor vehicle in order to commit another type of crime, such as robbery, DUI, or a hit and run. Serious auto crime violations carry considerably heavier punishments when compared to a traffic violation. This can include jail time if convicted, which will be further discussed later on.

Serious auto crimes generally involve the intent to cause injury, and may be escalated to the level of a felony charge. This is especially true if the violation involved repeat offenses, or if it resulted in:

  • Death;
  • Great bodily injury; and/or
  • Serious property damage.

Conversely, traffic violations are generally a result of negligence. Such violations can be treated as misdemeanors, with only minor fines, while more serious auto crimes can be treated as a felony. Most traffic offenses that are non-dangerous, or are simply driving violations, are called infractions.

What Is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter is a type of serious auto crime in which one person operates their vehicle in an illegal manner, and someone else dies as a result. Because each state defines and classifies criminal charges differently, there is a wide range of actions that can qualify for a vehicular manslaughter designation.

In the majority of jurisdictions, statutes separate vehicular manslaughter from vehicle homicide through the element of criminal intent. Vehicular homicide requires that the state prove premeditation and intent, while vehicular manslaughter only requires the state to prove negligence or reckless behavior.

However, many states may combine the two crimes under the same category, which is often referred to as vehicular homicide despite the many distinctions. The states which use this approach frequently employ a degree system, with the more serious charges being higher degrees associated with stricter possible punishments.

All states except for Alaska, Arizona, and Montana have statutes in place which specifically address deaths caused while operating a vehicle. In these states, the defendant may instead be charged with homicide or murder, or manslaughter. Under specific circumstances, a vehicular manslaughter charge may also be charged as a negligent homicide.

What Is Carjacking? What Is Grand Theft Auto?

Carjacking is a specific type of robbery which involves the theft of a motor vehicle by using force, or the threat of force. Most commonly, the threat of force in a carjacking is a firearm. While the charge of carjacking varies from state to state, the following elements must generally exist:

  1. The defendant took a motor vehicle that they did not own;
  2. The vehicle was taken from the immediate presence of the person who was driving, or the person who was the passenger;
  3. The vehicle was taken against the will of the owner and/or driver;
  4. The defendant used fear or force in order to take the vehicle; and
  5. When the defendant took the vehicle, they intended to permanently deprive the owner and/or driver of the vehicle.

Some jurisdictions will require that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm in order for the crime to be considered carjacking. The federal charge of carjacking requires that the car has been shipped, transported, and/or taken across state lines.

Grand theft auto refers to stealing a vehicle, when the vehicle’s owner is not present, and with the intent to permanently keep the vehicle. As a serious auto crime, it entails driving a motor vehicle in a reckless and dangerous manner, or using the vehicle in order to commit another crime such as a robbery.

Stealing a person’s vehicle for joyriding purposes would not be considered grand theft auto, as the intent to permanently take the vehicle is not present. However, stealing a vehicle to then sell any part of it would most likely constitute a grand theft auto charge.

The following elements must be present in order for an individual to be convicted of grand theft auto:

  1. The defendant took or drove the vehicle;
  2. The vehicle was not the lawful property of the defendant;
  3. The lawful owner of the vehicle did not give the defendant permission, and did not consent to having the defendant take and/or drive the vehicle; and
  4. The defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle.

It is important to note that most jurisdictions will include other vehicles in their definition of grand theft auto, not simply automobiles. Some common examples of other vehicles include, but may not be limited to:

  • Motorcycles;
  • Boats;
  • Recreational vehicles (“RVs”); and
  • Campers.

The term “grand theft” refers to the theft offense which occurs when the stolen property exceeds the state’s limit on petty theft. As such, due to motor vehicles generally having a greater value when compared to other types of possessions, motor vehicle theft is classified in most states as a grand theft felony offense.

Grand theft auto differs from carjacking in that carjacking is a type of robbery which involves force or the threat of force. Both involve the theft of a vehicle, while only one involves the use of force in order to accomplish the theft.

To further illustrate the differences between the two different crimes, grand theft auto is carried out without the use of violence, and the vehicle’s actual owner is generally not present while the crime is being carried out. Carjacking utilizes violence and/or force, with the vehicle’s actual owner likely being present during the incident. A defendant who commits carjacking can be charged with robbery or aggravated robbery.

What Are Some Other Examples Of Serious Auto Crimes?

The following is a list of other common examples of serious auto crimes:

  • Hit and Run: Traffic law refers to a hit and run as a crime in which a driver causes, or is involved in, a collision with another vehicle, property, or person and then fails to stop and provide their contact information as required by law. Examples of such information include their name and insurance policy details.
  • Refusing to Stop For a Police Officer: This serious auto crime occurs when the driver of a motor vehicle fails to pull over when requested to do so by a police officer.
  • Vehicle Burglary: Vehicle burglary refers to entering a vehicle in order to steal something out of it. Vehicular burglaries are considerably common, and are often underreported.
  • Vehicle Vandalism: Vehicle vandalism refers to any conduct that involves defacing and/or ruining the worth of a vehicle.

How Are Serious Auto Crimes Punished?

Serious auto crimes are generally punished with imprisonment and a significant amount of criminal fines. In cases involving carjacking, if the victim dies as a result of the carjacking, the death penalty may be imposed in specific states.

Some of the most common consequences for serious crime auto violations include, but may not be limited to:

  • Considerably heavy criminal fines;
  • Imprisonment in jail or prison, depending on the severity of the crime;
  • Loss of drivers license;
  • Suspension of drivers license;
  • Probation of over one year;
  • Community service; and/or
  • Restitution paid to the victim.

Do I Need An Attorney For Serious Auto Crime Charges?

If you are facing charges associated with a serious auto crime, you should consult with an area criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced and local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.