Property crimes are by far the most committed of all crimes in the United States, accounting for a total of 85% of all crime in 2019. Going by state, Maryland’s overall property crime percentage total came to 81% of all crimes committed in the state, just slightly under the national average.
As a result of the prevalence and wide variety of property crimes, these are broken down further into subcategories, and in some states like Maryland, they use a general rule of theft to deal with offenders of theft and property crimes. Under this rule, felonies are charged depending on the dollar value of the property stolen.
This article will break down exactly what constitutes motor vehicle theft and the penalties therein. It is important to understand these laws and how property value can affect how someone is ultimately charged and sentenced for this crime.
Theft of a Motor Vehicle
In Maryland, auto theft is defined as the knowing and willful taking of a motor vehicle out of the owner’s lawful custody, control or use without the owner’s consent. A vehicle is considered property, and therefore like any other property, stealing a car can be charged as theft under Maryland’s general theft statute or under their unauthorized use laws.
Motor Vehicle Theft is a Felony
Maryland has a few potential ways they prosecute car theft. The main way is under Criminal Law § 7-105, which states that a person may not knowingly and willfully take a motor vehicle out of the owner’s lawful custody, control, or use without the owner’s consent.
The stealing of a motor vehicle under § 7-105 is a felony offense and if convicted, the person charged will be sentenced to imprisonment, not exceeding 5 years and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both. The convicted person will also have to give back the motor vehicle or, if unable to do so, they will have to pay to the owner the full value of the motor vehicle as restitution.
Unauthorized Removal of a Motor Vehicle
Taking another person’s car could also be prosecuted as Unauthorized Removal of Property (commonly called UUV) under Criminal Law § 7-203. To be convicted of Unauthorized Removal of Property, the State must prove that you took and carried away the vehicle, vessel, or livestock of another without permission. Unauthorized Removal of Property does not require the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property like theft does.
Typically, you see Unauthorized Removal of Property for “joyride”-types of cases. Unauthorized Removal of Property is a misdemeanor that carries a mandatory minimum of 6 months and a maximum penalty of 4 years. Unauthorized Removal also carries 12 points against your driver’s license (yes, even if you steal livestock).
General Theft Law and its Penalties
Another way a person can be prosecuted for car theft is under the general law against theft – Criminal Law § 7-104. This statute puts all theft under the same umbrella when it comes to penalties and the value amount that determines the severity of those penalties.
Misdemeanor Penalties for General Theft
Under the general theft law, when a person steals goods worth less than $100, they are charged with a low-level misdemeanor. The penalties for a low-level offense often don’t include jail time, it is not out of the realm of possibility, therefore if charged, you could face imprisonment for up to 90 days. The fine for a low-level misdemeanor can be up to $500, but if it is a first offense, it is usually given leniency.
When someone is charged with a high-level misdemeanor, it means they have stolen, or tried to steal, property worth more than $100, but less than $1500. The penalties for a high-level misdemeanor charge can include up to six months jail time and a fine of up to $500.
For repeat offenders of high-level misdemeanor offenses, the jail time can increase to as much as one year.
Felony Penalties for Theft
Under the general theft law, if a person is charged with theft of property worth $1,500 or more, it is no longer a misdemeanor and becomes a felony offense. When the amount of property that was stolen is totaled up and found to be under $25,000, then the maximum punishment is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The penalties for felony theft charges increase if the total value of the stolen property is over $25,000 but less than $100,000. This is the mid-range felony and punishment for this can include up to ten years in prison and a fine up to $15,000.
The highest-level charges for felony theft are when the stolen property has a total value of $100,000 or more. These felony theft charges can include prison for up to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
Reduced Sentencing and Forgoing Charges
There is always the chance that the person who committed the theft can get a reduced sentence, it all will depend on their prior record. If the person has a clean record thus far, then the court may suspend the sentence or lower it so now active jail time needs to be served and probation takes its place.
It is always advised to seek quality legal counsel when facing serious charges of any sort and a good defense can save you time, money and time served as well. Here is a list of a few defenses a person may be able to use in court to get a reduced sentence. These defenses include:
- Mistake of fact (ownership)
- Lack of intent
- Coercion or use of force to commit the crime
- Duress/felt had no choice
- Return of property (was initially the person’s property)
- Ratification after the fact
Expertise with Compassion at Widder Law
The best defense is a good offense. If you are facing misdemeanor or felony theft charges, seeking help from an experienced criminal lawyer early on in the process can make a significant difference.
Jeremy Widder Law is a Maryland-based law firm specializing in protective orders and minor offenses, substance-related offenses, property crimes and non-violent felonies, as well as major offenses and violent felonies.
Getting charged with a crime can be intense and stressful. You deserve a lawyer who will listen and be your advocate. We are committed to walking with you from start to finish and giving your unique case the attention it deserves.
Contact Jeremy Widder Law for your consultation today.