Auto Theft Laws in Indiana

Stealing a vehicle, taking it for a joyride, or even entering a vehicle without authorization can result in prison time, fines, and a criminal record. Learn more about auto theft and related crimes in Indiana.

Indiana law contains several statutes that cover motor vehicle theft and related crimes. Basically, the law divides the crimes into four separate acts:

  • theft—a permanent taking
  • conversion—a temporary taking
  • unauthorized entry—an attempted taking, and
  • carjacking—a taking by force or threats.

A conviction for any of these crimes carries the possibility of incarceration and a substantial fine. This article will first describe the various offenses and offense classifications. At the end, you'll find the possible penalties (prison time, fines) listed.

Indiana divides crimes into felony levels and misdemeanor classes. For felonies, level 1 is the most serious and level 6 is the least serious. For misdemeanors, class A is the most serious and class C is the least serious.

Motor Vehicle or Auto Theft

Motor vehicle theft falls under Indiana's general theft statute. A person commits theft by intentionally exercising unauthorized control over another person's vehicle, with the intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle's use, value, or parts (engine, transmission). For example, a person who takes another person's car without permission, intending to strip it and sell the parts, commits theft.

Any theft involving a motor vehicle or its parts is a felony. It's a level 6 felony for a first offense and a level 5 felony for a second offense.

(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 9-13-2-34, 35-43-4-2 (2020).)

Conversion: Unauthorized Control of a Motor Vehicle

An individual who exercises control over another's vehicle without the owner's permission commits criminal conversion. Unlike theft, conversion doesn't involve an intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.

Joyriding

For instance, a person who takes another's vehicle on an unauthorized joyride commits conversion. Conversion is a class A misdemeanor.

Commission of Another Crime

If a person exercises unauthorized control over another's vehicle with the intent to use the vehicle in the commission of a crime, the offense becomes a felony. It's a level 5 felony if the person intends to use the vehicle to assist in committing a felony (like a bank robbery) and a level 6 felony if the person intends to use the vehicle to assist in committing a lower-level crime (like street racing).

Failure to Return a Rental or Leased Vehicle

A person who leases or rents a vehicle and agrees to return it at a specified time commits a level 6 felony if the person fails to return the property:

  • within 30 days of the specified time, or
  • three days after a written demand is served on the person.

(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-3 (2020).)

Unauthorized Entry of a Vehicle

Unauthorized entry into a vehicle is considered a class B misdemeanor. If the unauthorized entry results in visible damage or alterations to the steering column or ignition switch, the penalty increases to a class A misdemeanor. It's also considered unauthorized entry to occupy a vehicle that a person knows or should know is being used in the commission of a crime. This crime is a level 6 felony. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2.7 (2020).)

Carjacking or Robbery

Carjacking in Indiana falls under the general crime of robbery. Robbery is an intentional taking of property from another person through the use of force or threat of force. The crime is a level 5 felony unless the crime involves a weapon or physical harm.

A robbery or carjacking committed while armed with a deadly weapon or that results in bodily harm to another person constitutes a level 3 felony. The penalty increases to a level 2 felony if the robbery or carjacking results in serious bodily injury to another.

(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-42-5-1 (2020).)

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft and Related Crimes

The penalties for vehicle theft-related offenses range from a class B misdemeanor to a level 2 felony. The offense levels are bold in the above text. Below are the possible punishments for each offense level. All felony levels can be punished by incarceration, as well as a fine up to $10,000.

  • Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Level 6 felonies are punishable by a sentence of six months to two and a half years' incarceration. The court can reduce the sentence to a class A misdemeanor as long as the person hasn't received a similarly reduced sentence (alternative misdemeanor sentence) or been convicted of certain felony-level offenses in the past three years.
  • Level 5 felonies are punishable by one to six years' imprisonment.
  • Level 4 felonies are punishable by two to 12 years' imprisonment.
  • Level 3 felonies are punishable by three to 16 years' imprisonment.
  • Level 2 felonies are punishable by ten to 30 years' imprisonment.

(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-50-2-4.5 to -7; 35-50-3-2, -3 (2020).)

Defenses

A person charged with a motor vehicle theft offense in Indiana may raise one or more defenses to the charge. For example, a person accused of auto theft or joyriding might assert that the owner gave the defendant permission to take the vehicle. Or a person charged with unauthorized control of a motor vehicle might argue that the prosecutor has failed to prove that the person had the intent to use the vehicle to assist in the commission of a crime. As with any type of criminal charge, a jury or judge must find the defendant not guilty if the prosecutor fails to prove one or more of the essential elements of an offense.

Consult an Attorney

If you are charged with a motor vehicle theft-related crime, you should speak with an attorney. A criminal defense attorney will provide you with invaluable guidance while protecting your rights. Be sure to ask your attorney about the immediate and future consequences of a conviction. A criminal record for theft can make it more difficult to get a job, housing, or loan down the line.

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
DEFEND YOUR RIGHTS

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you