Florida’s Motor Vehicle Theft Laws

April 9, 2015

Police in St. Petersburg have recently warned citizens to lock up their cars and valuables because of a recent rash of car thefts. Police attributed the thefts to students on spring break. In one recent weekend, there were 18 auto thefts and 44 auto burglaries, which is approximately double the numbers of an average weekend. These sorts of crimes are typically committed by juveniles, and students in the county were on spring break that week. In 90 percent of the crimes reported, the cars were unlocked or the keys were left inside, though some of the cars had their windows broken.

Florida law does not provide for any specific “grand theft auto” charge. Instead, the statute provides that those who steal automobiles are charged with grand theft, which is a felony offense.

Theft

In Florida, the criminal offense of theft means knowingly obtaining or using, or attempting to obtain or use, another’s property, whether permanently or temporarily, with the intent to:

  • Deprive the owner of a right to or benefit from the property, or
  • Take the property for his or her own use or for the use of another person.

In order to commit theft, the use of the property need not be permanent. This means that if you take a car without the owner’s permission, it is theft, even if you return it a few hours later. Additionally, theft may be committed if you borrow an automobile then keep it for a longer time than the owner permitted. It is also theft if you obtain the vehicle not by physical force, but rather by lying, trickery, or fraud.

The offense of theft requires that the perpetrator have the felonious intent to steal. Felonious intent means that merely taking the property is not enough—the perpetrator must intend to steal it, or to deprive the owner of his or her rights in the property. In a theft trial, the prosecution must prove intent to the jury through “substantial competent evidence.”

Grand Theft

The theft of a motor vehicle is at minimum grand theft of the third degree. Normally, petit theft is the theft of property valued at under $300. However, Florida law specifically provides that the theft of a vehicle is grand theft. Even if the vehicle is worth under $300, it will be grand theft.

For purposes of this law, motor vehicle is a broad term, and includes any “automobile, motorcycle, car, truck, trailer, semitrailer, truck tractor and semitrailer combination, or any other vehicle operated on the roads of this state, used to transport persons or property, and propelled by power other than muscular power.” However, the definition of the term does not encompass bicycles, mopeds, or vehicles running only on a track.

Grand theft of the third degree is a third degree felony, punishable by any combination of:

Penalties are enhanced if the vehicle is of high value. If the automobile is worth between $20,000 and $100,000, it will be grand theft of the second degree, a second degree felony, punishable by:

Grand theft of the first degree is committed if the vehicle is worth $100,000 or more, and is a first degree felony, punishable by:

Facing automobile theft charges is serious and can be life-altering. If you are facing such charges, the services of a dedicated attorney are invaluable. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.