Defense Attorney for Possession of Stolen Vehicle
In Michigan, crimes of stealing or possessing stolen vehicles are considered serious by law enforcement. With a great lawyer, there is a defense to every charge.
Prosecutors and police zealously charge and prosecute crimes involving automobiles in Michigan. Because of the intense focus on these offenses by law enforcement, defendants are frequently wrongfully charged or overcharged. These cases are often defensible, even when everything seems hopeless.
The person who stole a vehicle is punished for stealing, and the person who accepts, purchases, or possessed the vehicle, knowing or having reason to know it is stolen, is punished as well, sometimes more harshly than the person who actually stole it. If someone did not know that a vehicle or other property was stolen, then he or she is not guilty of any crime.
The “receiving and concealing” law was enacted to deter people from stealing things. In theory, if a person cannot sell what he or she allegedly stole, there is no motive to steal it in the first place. History has shown that this strategy has had little success, and prosecutors are requesting longer and harsher sentences to deter these crimes.
A person who is a dealer or collector of merchandise who fails to inquire of the seller if the property is stolen or embezzled is presumed by law to have known the property was stolen. The same rule applies to anyone who buys the property, including vehicles, which has had a registration or serial number scratched off.
Penalties for Possession of a Stolen Vehicle
Michigan law makes illegal the possession of any kind of property the receiver knew or had reason to know was stolen. The same rules apply to motor vehicles as they do to electronics, jewelry, or any other property.
- Property value over $20,000: 10 years prison, up to 5 years of probation, and/or $15,000 fine;
- Property value between $1,000 and $20,000: 5 years prison, up to 5 years of probation, and/or $10,000 fine;
- Property value between $200 and $1,000: 1-year jail, up to 2 years of probation, and/or $2,000 fine;
- Property value under $200: 93 days jail, up to 2 years of probation, and/or $500 fine.
The listed fine amounts are the minimum a defendant will face. The statute says that the fine will be equal to the listed fine amount or 3 times the value of the stolen vehicle, whichever is greater. Furthermore, if a person receives stolen property several times over a 12-month period, each transaction can be added up to a grand total (aggregated) to determine the value amount and which crime level is charged.
Prosecution of Possession of Stolen Vehicle Charges
With stolen personal property cases such as electronics, jewelry, and other generic items, it often is difficult for the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen unless there is a confession. Similarly, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or should have known the vehicle was stolen. Evidence of guilt may consist of various things:
- a price far below the accepted fair market value;
- scratched off or removed serial or registration numbers and VIN tags;
- failure to register the vehicle within in a timely manner (or ever);
- quick resale to a third party without interim registration (ghost middleman sale);
- immediate dismantling of the vehicle and resale of the parts without first registering the vehicle (chop-shop activities);
- no receipt for the transaction;
- cash transaction (no paper trail);
- a buyer’s admission that he or she did not ask the seller if he had the legal right to sell the vehicle;
- broken and “hot-wired” ignition port on the steering column.
Defenses to Possession of Stolen Vehicle Charges
Lack of Proof that the Vehicle was Stolen
In order to prove a vehicle was stolen, the prosecutor must first prove someone owned it. This is the first target of a defense attorney. Can it be shown the vehicle was not really owned by the person who claimed it was stolen? Many defense attorneys don’t even consider this issue. They assume the prosecutor would never charge a case where they could not prove who owned the vehicle. But it does happen, and the best attorneys would never miss this first possible challenge to a prosecution.
Lack of Knowledge that the Vehicle was Stolen
- One of the most powerful defenses used by top criminal defense lawyers is that the defendant was an innocent purchaser or receiver, and he or she did not know the motor vehicle was stolen. If someone is charged, the prosecutor must believe that he or she has the evidence to prove the defendant knew or should have known it was stolen. Whatever evidence the prosecutor thinks he has, a defense attorney must be able to explain it, if possible, in a legitimate and logical way.
- Sometimes, innocent people are scammed and are sold a car that was stolen, and they truly did not know it was stolen. Fake registration documents can be made up easily on computers today, and it is no wonder thieves are able to trick innocent buyers.
- If payment for a vehicle was made by check, this is a good defense, as anyone wanting to conceal a bad act would not want to have a paper trail.
- Price is always something prosecutors look at. If the purchase price is far below the accepted fair market value, that is a red flag. However, many sales do not reflect the fair market value because a buyer may be desperate to raise money. An astute defense attorney will be on the lookout for possible reasons why a person may have sold a vehicle for a huge discount.
- Failure to register a vehicle may be due to an inability to afford the registration fee and insurance. Failure to register is also a crime, but it isn’t a felony.
Lack of Intent to Keep the Vehicle
A defense that is often effective is that the person found in possession of a stolen vehicle was merely temporarily borrowing the vehicle from someone else. Misunderstandings happen from time-to-time, and a person may mistakenly believe his or her car was stolen when, in fact, it was just being borrowed.
Experienced and Proficient Defense to Possession of Stolen Vehicle Charges
The dedicated, experienced and zealous defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges, like Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties and throughout Michigan. If you are under suspicion for this or any offense, we can work with you to build a defense or lessen any punishment that may be imposed by a court. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive, effective representation.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.