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Vehicle theft is on the rise in Colorado, which means that your chances of being charged with it rise in tandem with the crime rate.

According to the Denver Post, the first quarter of 2021 saw a 114 percent increase in the rate of auto theft compared to the previous year. That’s a significant increase – one the local authorities are trying their best to manage.

If you are caught and charged in the crime of auto theft, what does that mean for you? What type of penalties might you face as a result, and how can you fight back? Read on to find out.

Auto Theft in Colorado

Auto theft in the state of Colorado is defined as taking control over or knowingly obtaining control of the motor vehicle of another person without their permission – or by deception or threat. If aggravating factors are present, the crime will be charged as first-degree motor vehicle theft.

Some examples of aggravating factors include:

  • Attempting to disguise the vehicle
  • Taking it for more than 24 hours
  • Causing at least $500 of damage to the vehicle
  • Causing bodily injury to another
  • Putting a different license plate on the vehicle
  • Taking the vehicle out of the state for at least 12 hours
  • Using the vehicle to commit a separate crime

What About Grand Theft Auto?

Grand theft auto is a term with which many people are familiar – perhaps because of the video game title – but may not understand in a legal sense.

Basically, in Colorado, there is no official charge of grand theft auto. There simply exist two degrees of motor vehicle theft with which a person can be charged. Of course, taking a car in any of the ways listed above is a felony in Colorado.

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft

In Colorado, there are two separate charges for motor vehicle theft. Each carries its own penalty:

First Degree Motor Vehicle Theft

If aggravating factors are involved in the crime, then first-degree motor vehicle theft will be charged. It is a Class 3 or a Class 4 felony, depending on the value of the vehicle.

A crime with a vehicle valued more than $20,000, but not as much as $100,000, is often charged as a Class 4 felony. Anything worth more than $100,000 is classified as a Class 3 felony.

A Class 3 felony can result in a prison sentence of as many as 12 years with $750,000 in fines. A Class 4 felony is punishable by a prison sentence of six years and fines of as much as $500,000.

Second Degree Motor Vehicle Theft

Second-degree motor vehicle theft is a Class 5 felony if a vehicle is valued at more than $20,000. It is punishable by as many as three years behind bars and fines of as much as $100,000.

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft

If the vehicle involved is worth less than $20,000 but more than $1,000, then the penalty can result in 18 months of prison with fines of $100,000. For vehicles valued at less than $1,000, the crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, garnering up to 18 months in prison and fines of $5,000.

Defenses to Motor Vehicle Theft

The defense you and your representation construct depends on the specifics of your case. That’s why it’s crucial to have an experienced attorney on your side. They’ll help develop a strong defense against the charges and advise you of your rights.


About the Author:

Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012 & 2019” and a “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2020 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  Additionally, Expertise names her to its lists of the 25 Best Denver DUI Lawyers and 21 Best Denver Criminal Defense Lawyers, both in 2020. Ms. Diego has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.


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