Auto Theft

While there are no specific set of laws in Texas which deal with auto-theft in particular, the one law that addresses auto theft protects any vehicle that’s propelled by a motor from unauthorized use. While unauthorized use of a vehicle is a state jail felony in Texas, prosecutors and judges have leeway in whether they prosecute the offense as such, or as theft crime.

In Texas, auto theft offenses are usually treated as regular theft crimes and are criminally classified on the basis of the value of the car, truck, or other automobile that was allegedly stolen. A person accused of auto-theft might have committed a misdemeanor if the value of the vehicle was under $2,500.00, but prosecutors may pursue state jail felony “unauthorized use” charges if the judge will allow the enhancement and vice versa. Some defendants facing felony charges might see their charges reduced.

The severity of the criminal classification of the offense largely depends on the defendant’s criminal history, the details of the incident, the intentions of the offender, and the value of the vehicle.

Georgetown Auto Theft Attorney | Williamson County, TX

An individual accused of auto-theft in Austin will face varying penalties based on the details of the offense. Whether the defendant is accused of stealing a car for joyriding or for the purpose of selling it or its parts, they’ll need legal representation to ensure they’re treated fairly during legal proceedings which is especially true in cases where the accused person is innocent.

If you have been arrested for auto theft, it’s important to remember that the state has to prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to gain a conviction in the court of law. To retain a skilled criminal defense lawyer that can fight on your behalf, contact The Law Office of Jackson F. Gorski today.

Law Office of Jackson F. Gorski has offices in Austin and Georgetown but accepts clients throughout Texas including Travis County, Williamson County, Bell County, Bastrop County, Burnett County, Hays County, Caldwell County, Blanco County, Lee County, Milam County, Hays County, and Caldwell County. Call 512-960-4646 to set up a free consultation today.

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Auto Theft in Texas

There are a handful of ways to commit auto theft: a person might steal a car from a used car lot or drive away with an unlocked car from a suburban street, they may steal a friend’s keys and drive away with the friend’s car or hotwire a car to escape the scene of a crime. In these cases, the person has committed auto theft and can face severe criminal penalties in Texas.

Theft is a criminal offense in Texas, and stealing a vehicle is illegal. This act falls under Section 31.03. of the Texas Penal Code. Per the statute, a person commits theft of an automobile by unlawfully appropriating it, intending to deprive the owner of the car. The unlawful appropriation of a vehicle includes taking it without the owner’s consent. It also encompasses receiving a stolen car. If the actor knows someone took the car from its rightful owner, then the actor has unlawfully appropriated it, even if the actor was not the one who first stole the vehicle. Additionally, the unlawful appropriation of a car includes taking a stolen car from law enforcement if the actor knows someone has stolen the car from its owner.

Under Section 31.03., there are three general ways a person can commit auto theft:

  1. Stealing keys and taking a car
  2. Accepting a stolen vehicle
  3. Taking a stolen vehicle from law enforcement

Used car salespeople must be careful not to accept stolen vehicles and follow the requirements outlined in the Penal Code. Texas Under Penal Code Section 31.03(c)(3), used car salespeople must record the name, address, and physical description or identification number of the seller, a complete description of the vehicle and its identifying characteristics, and must get a signed warranty from the seller certifying that the seller has the right to possess the vehicle. A presumption applies if the salesperson knowingly or recklessly omits any of these steps and the vehicle turns out to be stolen property. The law presumes that the salesperson knew the vehicle did not rightfully belong to the seller. The court may use this presumption to find the salesperson who accepted the stolen vehicle guilty of theft.

A person commits joyriding by taking a car without the owner’s permission while intending to return it. Section 31.07. of the Texas Penal Code criminalizes taking a vehicle without the owner’s permission, including joyriding. The Penal Code classifies taking a vehicle as “unauthorized use of a vehicle.” The statute defines the crime as intentionally or knowingly operating another’s boat, airplane, or motor-propelled vehicle without the owner’s consent. A person who hotwires a car and steals it for a drive without the owner’s permission can face charges for unauthorized vehicle use.

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Penalties For Auto Theft

When a person steals a vehicle, a Texas prosecutor can charge them under Section 31.03 of the Texas Penal Code. The severity of the charges and the penalty after a conviction depend on the vehicle’s value. For instance, stealing property can be a misdemeanor under Texas law if the value is low enough. If the value of the stolen vehicle is between $100 and $750, the crime is a Class B misdemeanor. Per Section 12.22. of the Texas Penal Code, the punishment for a Class B misdemeanor can be a maximum $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

As the value of the vehicle increases, so does the severity of the crime and penalty. Auto theft is a Class A misdemeanor for stolen vehicles valued between $750 and $2,500. As per Section 12.21. of the Texas Penal Code, the punishment for a Class A misdemeanor is a maximum $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

When the car’s value is between $2,500 and $30,000, auto theft is a state jail felony. Per Section 12.35. of the Texas Penal Code, the punishment for a state jail felony is 180 days and two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Stealing a more expensive automobile can further increase the severity of the charges. Taking a car valued between $30,000 and $150,000 is a third-degree felony. Under Section 12.34. of the Texas Penal Code, the penalty is between two and ten years in prison, plus the court can also give a fine of up to $10,000. Stealing a car valued between $150,000 and $300,000 is a second-degree felony. Per Section 12.33 of the Texas Penal Code, the penalty for a second-degree felony is two to twenty years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Taking a car valued over $300,000, such as a Rolls-Royce, is a first-degree felony. Under Section 12.32. of the Texas Penal Code, the sanction for a first-degree felony is at least five years to life in prison, plus the court can fine the defendant up to $10,000.

According to Section 31.07. of the Texas Penal Code, unauthorized use of a vehicle in which a person intentionally or knowingly operates another’s vehicle without the owner’s consent is a state jail felony. The penalty if the court convicts a person of unauthorized vehicle use, a state jail felony, is between 180 days and two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000, according to Section 12.35. of the Texas Penal Code. Although the convicted person does not have to go to federal prison, the individual must spend time behind bars and have a criminal record, which can adversely impact a person’s life. Being a felon can make it more challenging to secure employment opportunities and carries a general social stigma. Those accused of auto theft should reach out to an attorney for assistance.

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Additional Resources

Section 31.03 of the Texas Penal Code – Section 31.03 of the Texas Penal Code lays out what constitutes theft. Auto theft is a type of theft, so anyone facing theft charges should review this statute.

Section 31.07. of the Texas Penal Code – Section 31.07. of the Texas Penal Code establishes the crime of unauthorized vehicle use, which constitutes auto theft. Individuals facing these charges can review the statute to understand the law better.

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Austin Auto Theft Lawyer | Travis County, TX

If you, a loved-one, or someone close to you are facing prosecution in Travis County due to unauthorized use of a vehicle, reach out to The Law Office of Jackson F. Gorski. Attorney Jackson F. Gorski at is a well-trained and experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer who can help you fight back the theft accusations. He’ll form a strong defense for your case.

Call 512-960-4646 to schedule a free consultation today. The Law Office of Jackson F. Gorski has offices in Austin and Georgetown, TX.

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