When you think of vehicle theft, you may picture someone hijacking a car and driving away into the distance. Or maybe a car theft organization that operates a chop shop.
Stories in the media tend to support this. Right now, Colorado Springs is on the lookout for two young people involved in a motor vehicle theft ring. Four arrests have already been made, and three of the stolen vehicles have been apprehended.
Together, the vehicles are valued just under $20,000, and if each person is found guilty, they will be convicted with motor vehicle theft and will face jail time or big fines.
But not all car theft is like this. The number of motor vehicle thefts in Colorado has been dramatically increasing in recent years. From 2014-2015, the number rose almost 30%, and you can be sure that not all of those cars were taken by organized professional thieves. In some cases, people may not even understand that what they are doing constitutes car theft.
That’s why it’s so important to understand what motor vehicle theft is, the possible defense strategies, and the penalties you could face under Colorado state law.
How Does Colorado Define Motor Vehicle Theft?
Motor vehicle theft occurs when a person knowingly obtains or exercises control over another person’s vehicle without authorization from the vehicle’s owner. If threats or deception are used to obtain a vehicle, you can also be charged with motor vehicle theft.
So let’s lay out a hypothetical situation. You really want to go to a concert with some friends, but you don’t have a car. You might be able to borrow your dad’s car. However, if you tell him why you want the car, you’re pretty sure he’ll say no. So you come up with a cover story: you got a new job and you need it to get to work. But somehow he finds out what’s going on. Technically, he could report the car as stolen and you could be charged.
These laws do not just apply to cars, either. Boats, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and aircraft also qualify as a “motor vehicle.”
Let’s look at some other situations and how Colorado law applies.
Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the Second Degree. In the least severe cases, a person can be charged with Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the Second Degree. A “joyride” or a miscommunication between roommates can lead to this kind of charge. For example, if three friends are caught taking another friend’s car out for a quick spin without the owner’s explicit permission, the friends could be charged with Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the Second Degree.
If you are convicted at this level, your license will be revoked. Depending on the value of the vehicle, you may face different consequences. The following lists the classifications and penalties if you are convicted, based on the value of the vehicle(s):
- <$1,000: Class 1 Misdemeanor; 6-18 months in prison and/or fine of $500-$5,000
- $1,000 – $20,000: Class 6 Felony; 12-18 months in prison and/or fine of $1,000-$100,000
- $20,000+: Class 5 Felony; 1-3 years in prison and/or fine of $1,000-$100,000
Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the First Degree. Motor vehicle theft often occurs to commit other crimes, including assault or robbery. Stolen vehicles can also be used to transport stolen goods across state lines. Additional crimes are considered in a vehicle theft charge, but other actions can increase the severity of a motor vehicle theft charge.
If the following can be proven, you could be charged with aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree:
- Failed/successful attempt to disguise the vehicle or alter its appearance
- Failed/successful attempt to remove or alter the vehicle’s identification number
- Failed/successful attempt to alter or remove the vehicle’s official license plates
- Commissioning a vehicle in a crime
- Taking a vehicle out of the state for over 12 hours
- Possession of a vehicle for over 24 hours
If you are convicted with Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the First Degree, your license will be revoked. The following lists the classifications and penalties if you are convicted, based on the value of the vehicle(s):
- $20,000 or less: Class 4 Felony; 2-6 years in prison and/or fine of $2,000-$500,000
- Over $20,000: Class 3 Felony; 4-12 years in prison and/or fine of $3,000-$750,000
You Can Defend Yourself against a Motor Vehicle Theft Charge
In an earlier blog post, we told the story of a woman whose car was stolen and involved in a robbery. But the police didn’t know this. They brought her in and interrogated and intimidated her into confessing to the crime – something she had nothing to do with!
Luckily, the police realized their mistake in the end and the woman was released, but this teaches us two things: first, a motor vehicle theft charge is taken very seriously because it affects innocent people and can lead to false accusations. Second, mistakes can be made while charging someone with a crime.
Because a motor vehicle theft charge can be the result of a mistake or a simple misunderstanding, there are numerous ways to defend against this charge. And it’s important that you do so, because the consequences for a motor vehicle theft conviction are incredibly serious.
If you are faced with a motor vehicle theft charge, it is important to discuss your options and defense strategies as soon as possible. Contact a skilled Colorado theft lawyer today for a free case review.
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” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.