Anyone who takes or exercises control over a motor vehicle, without the owner's authorization or by threat or deception, is guilty of motor vehicle theft in Colorado. Unlike the general crime of theft, motor vehicle theft does not require that the offender intend to permanently deprive an owner of the property. A temporary taking is sufficient.
Colorado law defines a motor vehicle as any vehicle propelled by motor power, other than vehicles run on rails. This definition includes boats and aircraft, in addition to automobiles and trucks. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1-901 (2020).)
Colorado punishes motor vehicle theft according to the circumstances involved in the crime and, in some cases, the value of the vehicle. The crime is divided into two offense levels—first-degree and second-degree.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-409 (2020).)
Aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree constitutes a class 3, 4, or 5 felony in Colorado.
Crime. To rise to the level of a first-degree offense, the offender must have done one of the following:
Imagine a group of college seniors decides to take their housemate's SUV on a road trip to Vail for a ski weekend while the housemate is away. They decide not to clear it with him first. Harmless prank? Not exactly. This prank constitutes a felony in Colorado.
Carjacking vs. Vehicle Theft
If none of the above factors listed above apply, theft of a motor vehicle constitutes second-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft and will be a felony or misdemeanor depending on the value of the vehicle.
Joyriding. “Joyriding” would likely be considered a second-degree offense with the penalty based on the value of the vehicle taken. The offense could bump up to a first-degree offense, if the person “joyrides” for more than 24 hours or cause over $500 in damages.
For both first- and second-degree offenses, the penalties primarily depend on the value of the vehicle.
The penalties for first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft depend on the value of the vehicle.
Prior convictions. If the current offense is first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft and the person has two prior convictions or juvenile adjudications for motor vehicle theft, the penalty is a class 3 felony (regardless of vehicle value).
The penalties for second-degree motor vehicle theft are as follows:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401, -501 (2020).)
If you've been charged with motor vehicle theft, speak with a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can evaluate your case, examine possible defenses, and defend your rights. You should also ask your attorney about the future consequences of a conviction. Having a criminal record can make it more difficult to get a job, housing, or loan down the road.