Auto Theft Laws in Indiana

Stealing a vehicle, taking it for a joyride, or even entering a vehicle without authorization can result in time behind bars.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 11/27/2023

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 for each offense level.

Auto Theft Crimes in Indiana

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, or catalytic converters). 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 §§ 9-13-2-34, 35-43-4-2 (2023).)

Criminal Conversion in Indiana

An individual who exercises temporary 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 Offenses

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 § 35-43-4-3 (2023).)

Unauthorized Entry of a Vehicle in Indiana

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 (2023).)

Carjacking (Robbery) in Indiana

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 (2023).)

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft and Related Crimes in Indiana

The penalties for vehicle theft-related offenses range from a class B misdemeanor to a level 2 felony. Below are the possible punishments for each offense level. All felony levels can be punished by incarceration, as well as a fine of 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 6 months to 2 ½ years' incarceration. The court may reduce this felony 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 10 to 30 years' imprisonment.

(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-50-2-4.5 to -7; 35-50-3-2, -3 (2023).)

Defenses to Auto Theft Crimes in Indiana

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.

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