Michigan has strict laws against car theft, joyriding, and carjacking. For more general information on motor vehicle theft, see Grand Theft Auto.
Michigan has a general theft statute that could apply to theft of a motor vehicle. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § § 750.356, 750.356a.) In order to convict a person of theft, the prosecutor has to show that the defendant took another person’s property without permission with the intend to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Like many states, Michigan classifies thefts based on the value of the property stolen. The more valuable the stolen property, the longer the possible prison sentence that a court can impose. For more general information on theft, see Michigan Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws.
Joyriding or driving another person’s car without permission is usually a less serious offense than car theft. Michigan has two joyriding statutes – taking possession of a vehicle and driving away (a felony), in which the defendant takes and drives away a car without the owner’s consent; and unlawful use (a misdemeanor) in which a person uses a vehicle beyond the scope of the owner’s permission. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § § 750.413, 750.414.) The difference between the two crimes is that felony joyriding requires the defendant to take the car without permission, while misdemeanor joyriding is committed when a person who has been given permission to use the car in some circumstances uses the car in other circumstance.
For example, misdemeanor joyriding may be charged when an employee uses a company car for personal business, or when a child uses a parent’s car for an unapproved trip, or when a mechanic takes your car for a spin around the block, unrelated to the repairs on your car. Felony joyriding would be charged if a person – who had never been given permission to drive an acquaintance’s expensive sports car – took that car for a short drive. The difference between misdemeanor or felony joyriding and theft is that the joyrider intends to return the car and the thief does not. For more information on joyriding, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?
Carjacking is a more serious crime than theft or joyriding. In Michigan, a person commits the crime of carjacking by using force, violence, or the threat of force or violence while stealing a car, including during the theft or attempted theft, during the escape, or while someone is trying to recover the car. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.529a.)
Michigan has a specific law against failing to return a rental car. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.362a.) The punishment for the crime depends on the value of the rental car: the more valuable the vehicle, the more severe the possible sentence. Stiffer sentences may also apply to defendants who have previously been convicted of failing to return a rental car.
Defendants offer two common defenses in motor vehicle theft cases. Defendants may claim that they had (or believed they had) the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle. Even if a defendant sometimes has permission to use the car, he or she must show that the car was used with permission on the occasion in question. Otherwise, the defendant could be convicted of unlawful use of a vehicle. Defendants may also claim that they had no intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, in which case the crime would be joyriding.
Theft in Michigan is punishable by up to ten years in prison, or a fine of $15,000 or three times the value of the property stolen (whichever is more), or both. Felony joyriding is punishable by up to five years in prison. Misdemeanor joyriding is punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $1,500. Unless the defendant had access to the victim’s vehicle because of his or her employment (such as a valet, a mechanic, or even an employee using a company car), a judge can reduce the penalty for a first conviction for misdemeanor joyriding to 90 days in jail or a fine of $500.
Carjacking is punishable by up to life in prison. Failing to return a rental car is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or three times the value of the vehicle (whichever is greater), or both if the car is worth more than $1,000 but less than $20,000. If the vehicle is worth more than $20,000, then failing to return a rental car is punishable by up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000 or three times the value of the vehicle (whichever is greater), or both. For more information on sentencing, see Michigan Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Michigan Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Any criminal conviction can lead to serious consequences, including time in prison or jail, fines, and a criminal record. If you are accused of or charged with a crime, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.