Auto Theft Laws in Minnesota

Minnesota law prohibits taking a car without the owner’s permission. Vehicle theft is punishable by as much as ten years in prison. For more general information on motor vehicle theft, see Grand Theft Auto.

Theft Under Minnesota Law

Minnesota has a broad theft statute that describes theft as taking another person’s property without permission and with the intent to permanently deprive the person of the property. The same general theft statute also prohibits taking or driving a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner. The defendant must know (or have reason to know) that the owner did not give consent. (Minn. Stat. § 609.52.) For more general information on theft, see Minnesota Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws.

Classification of Theft

Like many states, Minnesota classifies and punishes thefts based on the value of the stolen property. Thefts of more valuable property are punished more severely.


Carjacking - or taking a vehicle from the owner or driver by force or threat of force – is usually a fairly serious offense. Some states have specific laws targeting carjacking. Minnesota does not have a carjacking statute and carjacking may be prosecuted under the state’s robbery law.


The classic example of joyriding is the youngster who takes a car out for the evening and then returns it. In most states, joyriding (taking a vehicle without the owner’s permission) is treated as a less serious crime than theft because the joyrider does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. However, Minnesota’s prohibition against motor vehicle theft does not require the defendant intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently, only that the defendant take or drive the car without permission, knowing that he or she does not have permission. So, Minnesota’s broad theft statute could apply to joyriding. For more information on joyriding, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?

Failing to Return a Rental Car

Failing to return rental property, including a rental vehicle, is prohibited under Minnesota’s general theft statute. (Minn. Stat. § 609.52.)


A commonly asserted defense to theft or joyriding 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 occasionally has permission to use a vehicle, the issue is whether the person had permission on the instance in question.


Depending on the value of the vehicle, vehicle theft, including failure to return a rental car and joyriding, is punishable by as much as ten years in prison, a fine of not more than $20,000, or both. For more information on sentencing, see Minnesota Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Minnesota Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with motor vehicle theft or a related crime, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain Minnesota law, answer your questions, and help you present the strongest possible defense.

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