Auto Theft Laws in Colorado

Motor vehicle theft carries serious consequences. Learn about the penalties for stealing a vehicle in Colorado.

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.

Definition of Motor Vehicle

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).)

Classification for Motor Vehicle Theft

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 (Grand Theft)

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:

  • retained possession or control of the vehicle for more than 24 hours
  • attempted to or did alter or disguise the appearance of the vehicle
  • attempted to or did alter or remove the vehicle identification number (“VIN”)
  • used the vehicle in the commission of a crime other than a traffic offense
  • caused $500 or more of property damage (including to the vehicle itself) in the course of exercising control of the vehicle
  • caused bodily injury to another person while exercising control of the vehicle
  • removed the vehicle from the state for more than 12 hours, or
  • unlawfully attached or otherwise displayed false or unofficial license plates on the vehicle.

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.

Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the Second Degree

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.

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft

For both first- and second-degree offenses, the penalties primarily depend on the value of the vehicle.

Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the First Degree (Grand Theft)

The penalties for first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft depend on the value of the vehicle.

  • Vehicle worth less than $20,000: Class 5 felony punishable by a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment, a $100,000 fine, or both.
  • Vehicle worth $20,000 to $99,999: Class 4 felony punishable by a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment, a $500,000 fine, or both.
  • Vehicle worth $100,000 or more: Class 3 felony punishable by a maximum penalty of 12 years’ imprisonment, a $750,000 fine, or both.

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).

Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft in the Second Degree

The penalties for second-degree motor vehicle theft are as follows:

  • Vehicle worth less than $1,000: Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum penalty of 18 months’ imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both.
  • Vehicle worth $1,000 to $19,999: Class 6 felony punishable by a maximum penalty of 18 months’ imprisonment, a $100,000 fine, or both.
  • Vehicle worth $20,000 or more or third offense: Class 5 felony punishable by a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment, a $100,000 fine, or both.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401, -501 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

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.

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