Cars are some of the most commonly-stolen pieces of property, and that
means the laws are written in such a way that every kind of auto theft
is accounted for, even auto theft in which the owner actually receives
their vehicle back. We’re talking about the crime known as “unauthorized
use of a vehicle.” On this blog, we’ll go over exactly what
these charges mean, including the definition of the crime, the penalties
associated with it, and a few of the accepted defenses you can use to
Definition of the Crime
“Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle” is often confused with auto
theft, but the two crimes actually have a pretty significant difference
between the two of them. Whereas auto theft involves taking possession
and control over a vehicle with the intent of depriving the owner of the
vehicle, unauthorized use of a vehicle does not actually have intent to
deprive the owner of the vehicle of possession. Instead, it merely involves
using or operating the vehicle when you know you don’t have authorization
or permission to do so.
Let’s look at some examples. Say Jane and John go through a rough
breakup after a long relationship. John had been borrowing Jane’s
car to get to work, and Jane informs him he’s no longer allowed
to use the car. However, one day John misses his bus and is going to be
late for work. Not wanting to be disciplined or risk getting fired, he
simply uses his key to borrow Jane’s car and get to work for the day.
In this instance, Jane may accuse John of auto theft, but the charge will
likely be reduced to unauthorized operation because John never had the
intent of depriving Jane of her ownership of the vehicle. He fully intended
on returning it when he completed his shift and arrived home, even with
an apology. However, Jane could still press charges because John used
her car without her permission.
Here’s another example: two co-workers are conspiring to play a prank
against their boss who is extremely proud of and protective over his car.
While their boss is in a long meeting, the co-workers sneak into his desk,
take his key, and then drive his car a block away where they park it again.
The two then film his reaction when they reveal that his car wasn’t
stolen, simply moved to make him panic.
In this instance, even though there was no intent to steal or deprive their
boss of ownership of the vehicle, their boss could still press charges
for using his vehicle without permission.
Penalties of the Crime
Unauthorized use of a vehicle is charged as a state jail felony under Texas
Penal Code Section 31.07. While these are the least severe of all felony
charges, the fact still remains you could find yourself facing anywhere
from six months to two years in a state jail. And on top of that you could
be fined up to $10,000. However, the exact penalties you’ll face
will vary on a case-to-case basis because of the circumstances of different
offenses. It’s strongly advised you discuss your case with a Fort
Worth criminal defense lawyer to get the specific information about your
Perhaps the most often-used defense against these charges is arguing that
you did not know you were not authorized or had permission to use the
vehicle. If you can demonstrate based on your circumstances that a reasonable
person would not have known that they didn’t have permission to
use the vehicle in question, then you may be able to have the charges
dropped. This can be hard to prove, however, so it’s advised you
consult with an attorney.
Another accepted defense is the defense of mistaken identity. It’s
actually not all that uncommon for someone to mistakenly believe that
the accused used their vehicle when in fact it was used by someone else
entirely. When this is the case, a crime may have been committed, but
not by the person who is accused, thus necessitating their acquittal.
Talk to a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney from The Alband Law Firm
today by dialing (817) 997-4366 for a