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A Guide to Defending against Florida Grand Theft Auto Charges

When we talk about theft in our blog posts, we usually stick to the small stuff: shoplifting, petty theft, and so on. But this week, we’re going to address the charges and penalties associated with grand theft auto.While in recent years this term has become synonymous with a certain video game, don’t let that fool you into thinking that it is no big deal. Grand theft auto is a very serious charge in Florida.Grand theft auto, motor vehicle theft, and similar charges are not your average theft charges. They can land you in jail for years, even if you intended to return the stolen vehicle in question.Below, we’re going to go over some of the charges and penalties for motor vehicle theft in Florida. But first, it is important to define grand theft under our state’s laws.

What Grand Theft Means in Florida

In our state, grand theft is a broad term used to describe theft that is charged as a felony. For a crime to be grand theft, the value of the stolen property must be over $300.You read that right. Anything over $300 will get you charged with grand theft here in the Sunshine State.Since almost all cars cost way more than that – typically thousands or tens of thousands, it’s no wonder that stealing a car constitutes grand theft.Luckily, there are varying degrees of grand theft:

  • If the property or vehicle in question is valued at less than $20,000, you may be charged with grand theft in the third degree.
  • If the property or vehicle is valued between $20,000 and $100,000, you may be charged with grand theft in the second degree.
  • If the property or vehicle is valued at over $100,000, you may be charged with grand theft in the first degree.

More specifically, the intention to steal a motor vehicle could land you with these charges:Grand Theft Auto and Motor Vehicle TheftIf you intentionally obtain a vehicle that is not yours, whether it is for temporary or permanent use, you may be charged with grand theft auto.This means even a nightlong joyride can qualify as grand theft auto. And returning the stolen car will not change the type of charge you may face.The severity of these crimes does not end at cars. Motor vehicle theft is a separate charge that includes the theft of any self-propelled vehicle not operated on a rail. Motor vehicles in Florida include cars, motorcycles, trucks, and truck tractors. They do not include bicycles, mopeds, or subway vehicles.Failure to Return a Rental Car

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Maybe you obtained the car in a completely legal way, like through a car rental service. But if you fail to return the car, or keep it longer than you and the rental service agreed upon, you may be charged with grand theft.Fraudulent RetentionMaybe you obtained consent from the vehicle’s owner. But if that consent was given due to actions involving fraud, trickery, or deceit, you can still be charged with grand theft auto. For example, if you tell your significant other that you need to borrow his or her car for a week and never return it, the charges still apply.CarjackingIf you obtain a vehicle through assault, threats, or violence, you may be charged with carjacking, along with additional charges of assault.

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft Crimes

The sentencing and penalties for different motor vehicle crimes vary depending on aggravating factors, the value of the vehicle, and any other crimes committed with or for the stolen vehicle. The sentencing guidelines are as follows:

  • Motor Vehicle Theft (under $20,000): Felony in the Third Degree; up to 5 years in prison and/or fines up to $5,000
  • Motor Vehicle Theft (between $20,000-$100,000): Felony in the Second Degree; up to 15 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000
  • Motor Vehicle Theft (over $100,000): Felony in the First Degree; up to 30 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000
  • Stealing an Emergency/Law Enforcement Vehicle: Felony in the Second Degree; up to 15 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000
  • Causes over $1,000 to Real or Personal Property While Committing Motor Vehicle Theft: Felony in the First Degree; up to 30 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000
  • Failure To Return a Rental Car: Felony in the Third Degree; up to 5 years in prison and/or fines up to $5,000
  • Carjacking: Felony in the First Degree; up to 30 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000
  • Carjacking With a Deadly Weapon: up to life in prison and/or fines up to $15,000
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These are serious crimes, and require a serious defense strategy to win your case. However, an experienced and knowledgeable Florida lawyer can help you get the job done. Contact us today for a free case review.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.

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