In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 12,000 automobile thefts per year. Roughly 1,600 vehicles were stolen in the Pittsburgh area in 2016. Those accused of stealing cars are prosecuted harshly and face prison time along with hefty fines and restitution. In addition, those accused of joyriding, or using someone’s car without their permission, also face serious consequences.

Auto Theft Defined

The crime of auto theft is found under the Theft by Unlawful Taking statute at Section 3921 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. A person is guilty of this offense if he or she takes, carries away, or exercises unlawful control over a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Under the crimes code, a vehicle includes any car, truck, SUV, airplane, motor boat or other motor propelled vehicle.

Motor vehicle theft is graded under Section 3903 as a 3rd Degree Felony punishable by up to 7 years in jail and a $15,000 fine.

Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (Joyriding) Defined

With auto theft, the government must prove you had the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his vehicle, or in other words, that you took and had no intention of returning the vehicle. The crime of joyriding is called the Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle in Pennsylvania, found at Section 3928 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. A person commits an Unlawful Use of a Motor Vehicle if he or she operates an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat, or other motor-propelled vehicle of another without consent of the owner.

It is a defense under this statute if the accused person had a reasonable belief that the owner would have consented to the operation had the owner been aware of it.

Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is graded as a 2nd Degree Misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years in jail and a $5000 fine.

What is the difference between Auto Theft and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle?

The key difference between Theft by Unlawful Taking of a Motor Vehicle and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle involves the actor’s intent at the time of the offense. With the more serious crime of auto theft, the Commonwealth must prove that you never intended to return the car to the owner, or that you had the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. With unauthorized use, borrowing a car without the owner’s permission qualifies under this offense.

The Zuckerman Law Firm defends those accused of stealing cars or unlawfully using vehicles

If you are facing a Motor Vehicle Theft or Unauthorized Use case out of Pittsburgh or Western Pennsylvania, contact the Zuckerman Law Firm at 412-447-5580 for a free consultation. Our office has experience prosecuting and defending those accused of vehicle related crimes through Western Pennsylvania, and are ready to assist you with your defense. Call today.