Michigan Auto Theft Lawyer
Several types of offenses deal with the improper use or taking of a vehicle, ranging in seriousness from a misdemeanor to a life felony.
Auto Theft Crimes in Michigan
Michigan’s legislature created some of the most punitive auto theft laws in the United States. Auto theft laws are harsh in Michigan. This might be because Detroit is considered the “Auto Capital of the World.” Most offenses involving the theft or illegal use of a vehicle are felony cases. A felony is an offense that carries a maximum possible penalty of greater than one (1) year of incarceration. Felony charges, like auto theft crimes, start in a district court for arraignment and preliminary examination. Suppose the government has enough evidence to meet the probable cause standard. In that case, the district judge will order the case transferred to a county circuit court for further proceedings, including trial, if necessary. A skilled Michigan auto theft lawyer can negotiate for a reduction or dismissal of charges.
Types of Automobile Theft Offenses and Penalties
- Joyriding (Use Without Authority but No Intent to Steal) – If you take someone’s car and use it without their permission, but you do not intend to steal the car, the penalty is 2 years in jail, 5 years of probation, and a $1,500.00 fine. However, for first offenders, the judge may reduce the potential penalty to a maximum of 3 months in jail, 2 years of probation, a fine of $500.00, or 3 times the property’s value, whichever is greater.
- Failure to Return Rental Car– The vehicle’s value determines the penalty. If the rental car is valued at more than $20,000.00, the penalty is 10 years in prison, 5 years of probation, and a $15,000.00 fine, or 3 times the vehicle’s value, whoever is greater. If more than $1,000.00 but less than $20,000.00 value, the penalty is 5 years in prison, 5 years of probation, and a fine of $10,000.00 or 3 times the property’s value, whichever is greater. The problem with cases such as these is that virtually any rental car will have a value of over $1,000.00, so the penalties start at a high level.
- Unlawful Driving Away of an Automobile (UDAA) – Stealing a car is a 5-year felony with 5 years of probation, with fines and costs. A savvy Michigan auto theft lawyer will advocate for reduced changes and seek a sentence that is not overly harsh.
- Carjacking – If a person uses or threatens force or violence and puts another person in fear to effectuate stealing a car, it is a felony that carries possible life in prison. Importantly, if another crime occurs during the carjacking, such as if the carjacker steals a purse from the vehicle owner, the sentences for both crimes can be consecutive. Consecutive means one sentence must be entirely served before the next one begins, potentially doubling jail time.
It is also essential to know that if a legitimate repossession company employee attempts to “repo” a car but goes too far and uses or threatens violence, they can be charged with carjacking. If you face accusations of a crime involving an automobile, the sooner you get a Michigan auto theft lawyer on your side, the better.
Potential Defenses to Automobile Theft Charges
- Joyriding – This is the least severe charge and arises when a person reports their car stolen because they are not aware that someone, often someone they know, “borrowed” their car without telling them or getting permission. For example, when a child takes the family car without asking the parents or when a friend thinks that no one would mind if they used a car without asking permission. Of course, a stranger might impulsively take a car because they don’t feel like walking, but they have no intention to keep the car. An astute and experienced Michigan auto theft lawyer would very likely get such a charge dismissed and thrown out of court, especially if a “victim” family member or acquaintance does not wish to pursue a prosecution.
- Failure to Return Rental Car – Some people seem to believe that if they “extend” their rental without being granted permission from the rental company, all they may face is a civil lawsuit or repossession. Not true. Keeping a vehicle past the time stated in the rental contract is known as “conversion.” Conversion is theft because, even though the property was initially in a person’s possession lawfully, that person kept the vehicle with the intent to deprive the owner of their property. A defense to these charges will often be based on the fact that no intent to keep the vehicle permanently was present or they didn’t fully understand the terms of the rental contract.
Many rental contracts are absurdly lengthy and complex and are printed in tiny print that is almost impossible to read. A seasoned Michigan auto theft lawyer will be able to elicit sympathy from a judge and jury on this point. After all, does anyone actually ever read those contracts?
More Potential Defenses Used by Michigan Auto Theft Lawyers
- Unlawful Driving Away of an Automobile (UDAA) – A very experienced criminal defense expert must handle this charge because, depending on the facts, it may be hard to account for possession of a car you don’t own, especially if caught driving it. Your attorney must be aware of all possible defenses, such as:
– Lack of knowledge the car was stolen;
– Taking the position that the car was informally “rented” or bought from the real thief;
– No evidence the car was tampered with to be able to start it without keys;
– No intent to keep the car (joyriding).
Yes, joyriding is still a crime, but it is less serious than UDAA. If evidence of guilt is overwhelming, an expert Michigan auto theft lawyer may determine that a resolution of the case with a low-level misdemeanor may be the best option. Whatever the case, your attorney must have the depth of knowledge and experience to know the best option and what would be in your best interest.
- Carjacking – Carjacking is one of the most serious charges on the books. It carries the same penalty as murder. It is a crime of violence and potential danger. Many carjacking scenarios can turn into a homicide at any moment. Prosecutors go after these cases with true vengeance. In these cases, a defendant must have an attorney with the experience, confidence, and fortitude to stand up to the prosecution’s aggressive attack.
Depending on the evidence, a defense attorney may be able to establish a defense of mistaken identity. Carjackings are alarming events, especially if a deadly weapon is shown. These cases are notorious for witnesses who cannot identify the perpetrator, either due to shock or the carjacker concealing his appearance somehow. Unless the defendant was caught in possession of the car or left fingerprints in the car, proving identity may be problematic.
If a person is found in possession of a carjacked vehicle, their attorney must determine if the client obtained the vehicle, not knowing it was carjacked. The car may have been borrowed or bought by the person found driving it. These cases are admittedly sometimes hard to defend. However, a top-rated, highly experienced Michigan auto theft lawyer can always do something to help the client. With such a heavy penalty in these cases, it is not the time to hire a bargain-priced lawyer or accept a court-appointed attorney.
Michigan Defense Attorneys for Automobile Theft Charges
The Defense Team at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has decades of experience handling all types of automobile theft cases, from the least serious to the most serious, and we always find a way to help a client. We have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges throughout Michigan and federal court. We are renowned for providing the highest quality defense and passionate representation, while showing empathy and personalized care for each client. The Michigan auto theft lawyers with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. use a unique team approach that results in extraordinary results unobtainable by most other defense attorneys.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.