Defending Against Motor Vehicle Theft Charges In Texas
Vehicle theft is a serious crime in Texas, with serious penalties that can include jail time and fines. Motor vehicle theft under the Texas Penal Code is a state jail felony, and can be punished by six months to 2 years in jail, with fines up to $10,000.00. If the vehicle is worth more than $30,000, the defendant could be charged with a Third Degree Felony and face 2 to 10 years in jail, plus fines up to $10,000. If the vehicle was taken from an elderly individual, charges may be enhanced regardless of the car’s value.
Each year, Texas reports over 70,000 motor vehicle thefts, making it one of the state’s most frequent and serious crimes. Accordingly, law enforcement and prosecutors take auto theft seriously, and seek to punish defendants to the fullest extent of the law. This can mean trouble for those that have been charged with the crime but never intended to actually steal a vehicle. There are a number of reasons for which a person may be found driving a vehicle that is registered to someone else, and some of these reasons are harmless and innocent. Unfortunately, a criminal charge may proceed until you’ve had a chance to defend your rights through the legal system.
What the Prosecution Must Prove in a Texas Auto Theft Case
To prove the crime of motor vehicle theft in Texas, the State must show that the defendant took the wheel of a vehicle and drove:
- Without the owner’s consent;
- Knowing the property was stolen; or
- Took a vehicle that they knew law enforcement had identified as stolen.
Many cases involve an obvious theft situation, where a person broke into and stole another’s car, or committed a carjacking. Other cases may involve mistakes or miscommunication when using a friend or relative’s car. Other scenarios might involve holding a rental car past its due date, or parking a work vehicle at your house overnight.
Regardless of the situation, a defendant in these cases may have certain legal defenses available – whether the charge is auto theft or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Defenses may include:
- Consent – the vehicle owner allowed the defendant to drive the vehicle during the time in question.
- The defendant was the owner or authorized user of the vehicle.
- Lack of intent – the driver did not intend to deprive the owner of access to the vehicle.
- The defendant did not have knowledge that the vehicle was stolen property, if that is part of the charge against them.
- Deprivations of the defendant’s Constitutional rights. Law enforcement may have violated a defendant’s rights under the Fourth or Fifth Amendments while apprehending the suspect or proceeding with their investigation.
Our Texas Criminal Defense Legal Team Will Help You Fight a Vehicle Theft Charge
Criminal charges of motor vehicle theft in Texas can carry serious consequences. There is the prospect of significant jail time and fines, and lasting damage to your reputation and job prospects. You don’t want to fight this battle without experienced legal help that knows the law inside and out, and knows how to make your voice heard in the process. At Keith B. French Law, we will diligently analyze all aspects of your case and present the best legal defense possible in your situation. Contact our Pearland criminal attorneys for help today.