Motor vehicle theft, which is also known as grand theft auto, is a common property crime in the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, in 2010 alone (the last year where complete data is available on property crime), over 725,000 incidents of motor vehicle theft occurred.
Motor vehicle theft is the act of taking or trying to take a motorized vehicle without the owner’s consent. A motor vehicle can include but may not be limited to a car, truck, SUV, van, bus, or motorcycle. Some states require a minimum value that the vehicle must exceed for the theft to be considered grand theft auto. However, as this minimum value is typically less than $500, it is generally difficult to steal a motorized vehicle and not have in qualify as motor vehicle theft.
The manner in which the vehicle is taken does not particularly matter in determining if theft has occurred, so long as the end result is the unauthorized loss of use of the vehicle from the owner. Even if you simply “borrow” the vehicle from the owner and return it to them after you are done, if you do so without the permission of the owner, you can be charged with motor vehicle theft.
Methods of motor vehicle theft can include:
Theft without access to the keys, where the thief breaks into the vehicle and starts the car by hotwiring it or simply tows the car away
Theft with access to the keys, where the thief is given the key by the owner—such as is the case with valet parking—but the thief does not return the car to the owner’s possession
Theft with access to the key when the vehicle is left unattended, such as when the owner leaves the vehicle running while briefly stepping into a convenience store
Theft through fraud by “purchasing” a vehicle using a fraudulent check or other monies that do not have the advertised value
Carjacking, where the thief forces the owner of the vehicle out of the vehicle in order to steal the vehicle
Grand theft auto is considered a felony in most cases. This typically means that if you are convicted of this property crime, you will receive a sentence of at least one year in prison (if not multiple years in prison), as well as possibly fines, community service, and probation. If you commit additional crimes while committing grand theft auto—such as kidnapping, assault, or identity theft—or you have a previous criminal record, you can expect the punishment for the property crime to be greater than if the auto theft is your first offense.
If you have been accused of or arrested for grand theft auto or a related property crime, you need the help of a criminal defense attorney. Since grand theft auto is considered a felony in most situations, being accused of this crime is a serious accusation with significant consequences. Therefore, rather than attempting to defend these charges on your own, you should seek help from a trained criminal defense attorney today.
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