Grand theft auto or the taking of a vehicle which does not belong to you is a very serious crime and can be charged as a felony in some states. Laws regarding theft vary from state to state however petty thefts are usually charged as misdemeanors and punishable by as much as twelve months in jail while grand theft is generally a felony and can result in more than twelve months in prison. Grand theft is usually characterized by the dollar amount of the item stolen. A stolen item with a value greater than $500-$1,000 will usually be charged as grand theft–and most vehicles fall under this category.
To gain a conviction for grant theft auto the prosecutor must prove that the person took a vehicle which belonged to another person with the clear intent to deprive them of the vehicle permanently. The car doesn’t necessarily have to be broken into or hotwired; a car which is unlocked and has the keys in the ignition may seem like a clear invitation to drive it away, but the charges of grand theft auto remain the same. Boats, campers, motorcycles and trailers all fall under the category of grand theft auto in mo-st states with a few exceptions involving boats.
Enhanced penalties and punishments can occur should the person taking the car break into it, or break into the garage where the car is housed. In such a case the person could also be guilty of burglary. If the vehicle is taken from the owner using force or using a firearm, then charges of robbery, assault or carjacking could also be leveled. The punishments for these crimes are much more severe than the punishments for grand theft auto and are usually felony charges carrying as much as ten to fifteen years in prison. Aside from prison or jail time, restitution to the victim, fines, fees and probation are all possibilities with a conviction of grand theft auto.
What You Must Do if You’ve Been Charged With Grand Theft Auto
If you have been charged with grand theft auto, you must hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to minimize the damage to your future. Your attorney will understand the potential defenses which can be used in your specific case. The two defenses most often used include intent and consent. If your attorney can prove that you did take the car however you had no intention of permanently depriving the owner of the car, then you could be acquitted of the crime of grand theft auto. If it can be proven that the owner of the car gave you permission to take it, then you also could be acquitted of the crime.
Remember, however that just because the owner allowed you to drive his or her car at another time, consent is not clearly established—your attorney must show that you had the owner’s express consent to take the vehicle on the occasion in question. There is a less serious charge known as taking without owner’s consent which can be used when a defendant takes a car that clearly belongs to another but that the defendant is sometimes allowed to drive and actually possesses a set of keys to the vehicle. When a child takes a parent’s car without permission but they have had permission in the past it could be charged as a TWOC.
Your criminal defense attorney will inform you of your legal rights, study the case thoroughly in order to build the best defense possible for you, and should you be found guilty, he or she will work with the prosecution to try and lessen the severity of your penalties.