Every day roughly 50 vehicles are stolen in Michigan—auto theft is not uncommon. However, that doesn’t make the ramifications of auto theft charges any less severe. The State of Michigan is cracking down hard on car theft.

That means that if you or a loved one have been accused of stealing a car, you need the assistance of an experienced Michigan auto theft attorney who is fully aware of the current legal considerations and can guide you towards the best possible outcome.

Don’t leave your future to chance. Get in touch with our office today at (517) 273-0428 for a free case review.

What is Grand Theft Auto?

Grand Theft Auto is a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially because of the popular video game series—but what does it actually mean?

In simplest terms, Grand Theft Auto is the theft of any automobile or motor vehicle. It’s the legal terminology used to describe vehicle theft.

However, not all offenses related to unlawfully using a car are considered Grand Theft Auto. In Michigan, whether you intended to permanently keep the vehicle is an important distinction when it comes to potential consequences.

Different Degrees of Auto Theft in Michigan

Michigan auto theft laws are a little different in that there aren’t “degrees,” as you see in other types of theft depending on the real or estimated value of the stolen item or items. Instead, there are varying offenses based on the specifics of the crime. Those charges in order of severity include:

  • Grand Theft Auto (Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile or UDAA)
  • Larceny of a rented vehicle
  • Joyriding (Use of an Automobile Without Authority and Without Intent to Steal)

Grand Theft Auto

As mentioned, this charge occurs whenever a vehicle is unlawfully driven away—so without permission. There must be proof that there was intent to deprive the rightful owner of the vehicle permanently. Grand theft auto is a felony. Assisting in the theft of a vehicle can also result in Grand Theft Auto charges.

Failure to Return a Rental Car (Larceny of a Rented Vehicle)

Renting a car and failing to return it on time may not seem serious, but it can carry a steep sentence. Fines increase with the value of the vehicle—an Audi will carry a far greater penalty than, say, a Kia. Punishments may also depend on your criminal history, and specifically whether this is your first auto theft offense.

Joyriding

Joyriding is considered a different category than auto theft. However, some types of joyriding are still felonies.

Basic, misdemeanor joyriding occurs when a driver takes a vehicle that they were previously authorized to use without asking for consent or authorization for a specific activity. For instance, the use of a company car outside of the scope of your work duties without approval can be grounds for a misdemeanor joyride. This charge is the lowest degree, so to speak, of auto theft in Michigan.

A felony joyride, on the other hand, occurs when a vehicle is taken with no authorization at all—for example, taking a random vehicle off the street to the store and back. This charge usually does not extend to family members (though it can without a proper defense lawyer).

Felony joyriding charges are much more severe and can carry long sentences and high fines. Either way, what differentiates joyriding from auto theft is that the vehicle is only taken temporarily and never meant to be kept from its rightful owner permanently.

Is Carjacking Considered Auto Theft?

Carjacking charges are a step above auto theft where force or threats were involved during or after the act.

To be more specific, the State of Michigan defines carjacking as “using force, violence, or the threat of force or violence while stealing a car, including during the theft or attempted theft, during the escape, or while someone is trying to recover the car.” (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.529a.)

Carjacking is considered a violent crime and the most severe auto-theft related charge in the state of Michigan.

Punishments for Auto Theft

Michigan has very stringent penalties for those accused of car theft, though it varies according to the charges levied.

  • Carjacking: A lifetime sentence is possible. Punishments vary based on the level of force used
  • Grand Theft Auto: Up to three times the value of the vehicle or $15,000 (whichever is greater) and up to 10 years jail time
  • Failure to Return a Rental Car: (value under $20,000) Up to three times the value of the car or $10,000 (whichever is greater) and up to 5 years jail time. (Value over $20,000) punishment is the same as grand theft auto
  • Felony Joyriding: Up to 5 years of jail time
  • Misdemeanor Joyriding: Maximum fine of $1,500 and up to 2 years of jail time

What to Do If You’re Accused of Auto Theft in Michigan

Above all, you need to collect as much evidence as possible as quickly as possible. That may seem obvious, but sometimes people become so panicked by unexpected charges that they overlook crucial steps to proving their innocence.

Relevant evidence may include things such as proof of permission to use the vehicle or proof of your whereabouts when the car in question was taken. If you did take the car and did not have permission, anything that could support that you intended to return it is also helpful.

No matter what evidence you have, however, the process of defending yourself against auto theft charges in Michigan can be overwhelming.  The results don’t lie—we have helped dozens of clients get back on their feet and reduce or even clear the charges they face.

At O’Keefe Law, we genuinely care about our clients. That’s why we offer free case reviews for new clients—you can make an appointment right here on our website or over the phone at (517) 273-0428.