It is a crime in Kentucky to steal a vehicle or use someone else’s vehicle without permission (this is called joyriding). Vehicle theft is punishable by up to ten years in prison. For more general information on motor vehicle theft, see Grand Theft Auto.
Motor vehicle theft is prohibited and punished under Kentucky’s general theft law. A person commits the crime of theft in Kentucky by taking or exercising control over property that belongs to someone else with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Under Kentucky’s theft law, both a person who steals a car and a person who is caught with a stolen car and knows that it has been stolen (and is therefore “exercising control” over another person's car) could be charged with theft. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030.) For example, Bobby breaks into a car in his neighborhood and takes the car. The next day, Susie buys the car, knowing that Bobby stole it, and she drives the car around town. Both Bobby and Susie could be convicted of theft.
A person has the intent to permanently deprive the owner of property whenever the thief does not intend to return the property. Usually, the prosecution can rely on the circumstances of the theft to show that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of property. For example, a person who forces entry into a car and drives away without the owner’s permission almost certainly intends to deprive the owner of the property. For more general information on theft in Kentucky, see Kentucky Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws.
Like most states, Kentucky punishes most thefts based on the value of the property stolen. The more valuable the stolen property, the more severely the theft is punished. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030.)
Kentucky does not have a specific law against carjacking – taking a vehicle from the owner or driver by force or threat of force – but this crime can be punished under the state’s robbery statute. The difference between carjacking and other motor vehicle thefts is that during a carjacking the defendant uses violence or threats of violence to take the car from the owner. For example, a person who jumps into a person’s car at a red light and forces the driver out of the car at gunpoint has committed carjacking. Carjacking is usually punished very severely.
A person commits the crime of joyriding, called unauthorized use of an automobile in Kentucky, by operating or using a vehicle without the permission of the car’s owner or operator. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.100.) The difference between joyriding and car theft is that in joyriding, the defendant does not intend to keep the vehicle. For example, a teenager who takes a school bus for a spin around town without permission of the bus driver or the school board, but then returns the bus to the school, has committed the crime of joyriding. For more information on this crime, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?
Some states specifically include failing to return a rental car in the definition of theft. Kentucky does not, but Kentucky’s theft law is broad enough that it likely covers the failure to return a rental car. As soon as a person keeps a rental car after the expiration of the rental period and with the intent not to return it, the person has committed theft.
In Kentucky and elsewhere, there exist two primary defenses to motor vehicle theft. The first defense is that the defendant had (or believed that he or she had) the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle . Note that even if a person sometimes has permission to use a vehicle, the issue is whether the person had permission on this particular occasion. The second possible defense is that the defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, in which case the crime would be joyriding, not motor vehicle theft.
Theft of property worth less than $500 is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $500. Theft of property worth $500 or more but less than $10,000 is a Class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. Theft of property worth $10,000 or more but less than $1,000,000 is a Class C felony, which can result in a prison term of five to ten years and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. Joyriding is also a Class A misdemeanor, unless the defendant has previously been convicted of joyriding or theft of a motor vehicle, in which case the crime is a Class D felony. For more information on sentencing, see Kentucky Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Kentucky Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
If you are charged with motor vehicle theft, joyriding, or any other crime, you should talk to a Kentucky criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what expect in court, based on the charges and the assigned judge and prosecutor. Hopefully, with an attorney’s help, you can obtain the best possible outcome in your case.