Motor vehicle theft: Not so cool in reality

Motor vehicle theft: Not so cool in reality

Motor vehicle theft is a crime that has been aggrandized in rap songs, video games (Grand Theft Auto), and other aspects of popular culture. In New York State, however, stealing any car valued greater than one hundred dollars, whether it is a banged-up Chevy or a mint-condition BMW, will likely get you arrested for violating New York Penal Law 155.30(8). Theft of a motor vehicle (this category does not include motorcycles) worth more than $100 is automatically a felony, but the degree depends on how much the car is worth.

If the stolen vehicle is valued at more than $3,000, you can be charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a Class D felony.  Because there is no minimum sentence for a first-time  nonviolent offender, the penalty could be anything from a conditional discharge, probation or fine, to a possible prison sentence of up to  four years.

If the car is valued in excess of $50,000, you may be charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C felony.  First-time offenders face anything from no jail time to up to 15 years in prison.   

If stolen vehicles are transported across state lines or the vehicles are being taken as part of a racketeering scheme, federal authorities may get involved. In 1984, Congress enacted the Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act to combat a rise in criminally-run ‘chop shops’ that dismantle stolen vehicles to obtain spare parts.

There are two primary affirmative defenses to a motor vehicle theft charge. The first is a lack of intent to permanently deprive the owner of their car, and the second is that the owner allowed you to take it.

If you take a car but intend to return it, you may only be guilty of unauthorized use of a vehicle, an act popularly known as “joyriding.” Such a crime is usually a misdemeanor, unless the person commits the crime a second time within 10 years.  

There is no crime involved if a car’s owner consented to your taking or using the vehicle.  If it can be proven that he or she permitted you to use the car you were later stopped in, you should not be charged with Grand Larceny. Bear in mind there has to be consent by the owner for the occasion in question: it is not enough to claim that the owner let you take it in the past.

Raising these type of offenses is extremely important. That is why it is critical that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney the moment you are charged with motor vehicle theft or learn that you are under suspicion. Your attorney will help you mitigate the allegations and mount a firm and strategic defense, which is your best chance of avoiding a criminal record and putting any mistakes behind you. Julie Rendelman is a New York criminal defense attorney who has been practicing law for more than 20 years. She offers free consultations and can be reached at 212-951-1232. Visit to learn more about motor vehicle theft.