Indiana law contains several statutes that cover motor vehicle theft and related crimes. Basically, the law divides the crimes into four separate acts:
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 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).)
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.
For instance, a person who takes another’s vehicle on an unauthorized joyride commits conversion. Conversion is a class A misdemeanor.
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).
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:
(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-3 (2020).)
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 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).)
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.
(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-50-2-4.5 to -7; 35-50-3-2, -3 (2020).)
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.
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.