Auto Theft Laws in Michigan

Stealing a car or even taking it on a joyride can result in felony penalties in Michigan. Carjacking can mean up to life in prison. Learn about Michigan's laws related to motor vehicle larceny.

By , Attorney

Michigan law prohibits several acts related to motor vehicle theft, including larceny, joyriding, and carjacking.

Motor Vehicle Larceny

A person who steals a motor vehicle can be prosecuted under Michigan's larceny statute. To prove larceny of a vehicle, a prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant took another's vehicle without permission and with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of their vehicle. The penalties for larceny depend on the value of the vehicle.

Misdemeanor penalties. For vehicles worth less than $1,000, misdemeanor penalties apply. A person faces up to a year in jail. If the person has a prior larceny conviction, the penalty can bump up to a five-year felony sentence.

Felony penalties. Stealing a vehicle worth $1,000 or more but less than $20,000 carries felony penalties of up to five years' prison time and a $10,000 fine. Stealing a vehicle worth more than $20,000 can land a person in prison for up to ten years.

Refusing or failing to return a rental car within the time provided in the contract also constitutes larceny and carries the same penalties.

(Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.356, 362a (2020).)

Breaking, Entering, or Stealing From a Motor Vehicle

Michigan provides separates penalties for breaking or entering a vehicle to steal or remove parts or items from the vehicle.

A person commits a five-year felony when the crime involves stealing or removing certain parts or items from a motor vehicle, such as tires, catalytic converters, stereos, phones, and any electronic device.

Separately, unlawfully taking property (not listed above) from a vehicle is penalized by the value of the property and carries the same penalties as larceny. If the stolen property is worth less than $1,000, misdemeanor penalties apply. Felony penalties apply when the value of the stolen property is $1,000 or more.

(Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.356a (2020).)

Unlawfully Driving Away or Using a Vehicle Without Authority (Joyriding)

Michigan divides joyriding-related offenses into two crimes. Unlike motor vehicle larceny, joyriding offenses do not require intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Rather, the joyrider intends the unauthorized use or taking to be temporary.

Taking possession and driving away. A person who willfully and unlawfully takes possession of a vehicle and drives or takes it away commits a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Anyone who assists the offender faces the same punishment. In Michigan, this crime is commonly referred to as unlawfully driving away an automobile (UDAA) or felony joyriding.

Use without authority. The crime of use of a vehicle without authority carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to two years' imprisonment or a $1,500 fine. For a first offense, the court may reduce the punishment to not more than three months' incarceration or a $500 fine. This offense is sometimes referred to as misdemeanor joyriding.

A prosecutor might charge misdemeanor joyriding if the defendant had lawful possession of the vehicle and it was only the defendant's use that was unauthorized. Felony joyriding requires both unlawful possession and driving away. For instance, an employee who has lawful possession of a company car but uses it for personal business could face charges for misdemeanor joyriding. A prosecutor might file felony joyriding charges in a case involving a person who, seeing keys in the next-door neighbor's car, decides to hop in and drive it to a friend's house.

(Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.413 to .414 (2020); People v. Hayward, 338 N.W.2d 549 (Mich. App. 1983); People v. Lerma, 239 N.W.2d 424 (Mich. App. 1976).)

Carjacking

A person convicted of carjacking faces up to life in prison. In Michigan, a person commits the crime of carjacking by stealing a vehicle by using force, violence, or the threat of force or violence or by placing the driver or any passenger in fear. The law doesn't require that the offender gets away with the car. It's enough to do any of these acts in the course of stealing or attempting to steal the vehicle or even while fleeing or attempting to flee from the crime. (Mich. Comp. Laws. § 750.529a (2020).)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

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.

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