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Intent and Consent: The Two Big Players in Auto Theft Charges

Jeff Cole
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan & Cole

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Relationships often get heated. Sometimes, it is best to get away to take a few deep breaths and think before permanent damage is done by saying things one does not mean, or making big decisions based off of raw emotion.

This is what happened to a young man we’ll call Mike. Mike and his girlfriend (for the purposes of this story we will call her Jen) have lived together for some time, and the two share a car. The car is in Jen’s name, but both use the car to drive each other to work and run errands.

Mike and Jen have been going through a rough patch, and Mike recently moved out of their house and in with a friend in order to give the couple space to work out their differences. Mike was over at Jen’s house to have dinner and discuss their relationship a few weeks ago, but things got heated again, and Jen went for a walk to clear her head. Mike needed a break, too, so he took Jen’s car to meet up with a friend for an hour or two.

When Jen returned home, she saw her car gone and reported it stolen, earning Mike a night in jail and auto theft charges. Mike claims that he was only using the car to get away for an hour or so, and had every intention of returning with the car. While he clearly had taken the car without Jen’s consent, he was not planning on selling, totaling, or otherwise depriving Jen of the car—so how will this unfold?

Joyriding Versus Auto Theft: Intent Is King

The unauthorized use of a vehicle in South Dakota, also known as joyriding, is an offense, but a far less serious one than auto theft—but when both involve taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, what is the difference?

Auto theft charges are based on an individual’s property being taken without consent, as are joyriding charges. The key difference between the two charges, however, is intent—did the person who took the car intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle? If so, this would be considered theft. If the person took the car without permission but intends to return the car to the owner, it would be considered unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Where Does This Put Mike?

Mike is in a situation that many people find themselves in. His act may have been disagreeable, but his intentions were not malicious. Unfortunately, when a case relies on proving intent, things can get tricky.

In this scenario, Mike would be wise to invest in an attorney. Auto theft charges are serious business, and it is important that his case is clearly presented to prove his intent. If you find yourself in a similar situation, hiring an aggressive defense attorney can help you avoid the felony charges that are usually associated with auto theft.

Do you have further questions of your own about the unauthorized use of a vehicle versus auto theft charges? Ask us today by clicking on the live chat feature now!


Category: Criminal Defense


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