Auto Theft Laws in New York

Like many states, a conviction for motor vehicle larceny or a related crime in New York can result in a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines.

By , Attorney

Each state, including New York, has its own laws pertaining to motor vehicle theft, including stealing a vehicle, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (joyriding), and carjacking.

Motor Vehicle Larceny (Auto Theft)

An offender who takes a motor vehicle valued at over $100, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its use or possession, commits the crime of grand larceny in the fourth degree. Fourth-degree grand larceny constitutes a class E felony offense, which carries a sentence of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine (or double the amount of the offender's gain from the crime). Additionally, a person who possesses a stolen vehicle worth more than $100 faces the same penalties.

(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 80.00, 155.30, 165.45 (2020).)

Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (Joyriding)

Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, commonly called joyriding, occurs when a person takes or uses a vehicle without the owner's consent. Unlike auto theft, the joyrider does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle's use or possession. The unauthorized use is the crime. Three punishment levels exist for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, depending on the circumstances.

Unauthorized Use in the Third Degree

Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the third degree covers the broadest range of conduct and includes when a person, without consent of the vehicle's owner, does any of the following:

  • takes, operates, exercises control over, rides in, or otherwise uses the vehicle
  • while servicing a vehicle, uses the vehicle in a way that is unrelated to the repair and for the person's own purposes, or
  • retains another's vehicle for a lengthy time period beyond the agreed return time or operates the vehicle in a manner constituting a major deviation from the agreed-upon purpose.

Any of this conduct constitutes a class A misdemeanor, which subjects the offender to up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Unauthorized Use in the Second Degree

A defendant who commits third-degree unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, having been previously convicted of the same offense in the second or third degree, is guilty of a class E felony. This level of felony carries penalties of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Unauthorized Use in the First Degree

A joyrider who uses a motor vehicle in the course or commission of a class A to D felony or in immediate flight from the crime commits unauthorized use in the first degree, a class D felony. Punishment for a class D felony includes up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 70.15, 80.00, 80.05, 165.05, 165.06, 165.08 (2020).)

Robbery (Carjacking)

New York charges carjacking as robbery in the second degree. Such an offense occurs when a person, through use or threat of force, takes a vehicle from someone. Carjacking constitutes a class C felony offense. Penalties for a class C felony include up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine (or double the amount of the offender's gain from the crime). If the carjacker causes physical injury to another or is armed or appears to be armed, the crime falls under first-degree robbery—a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years' imprisonment and the same fine as above.

(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 80.00, 160.00, 160.10, 160.15 (2020).)

Defenses

One or more legal defenses can be available to a defendant with a motor vehicle theft or similar charge, though the particular defenses available will differ significantly from case to case. The following defenses are sometimes used in motor vehicle theft cases.

Consent. If an individual has the owner's consent to drive a vehicle, no theft occurred. This defense sometimes arises because the person taking the vehicle might have misunderstood the terms of permission the owner granted. For example, if your friend agrees to let you borrow their car on Thursday but you mistakenly believed it was Tuesday, you did not commit motor vehicle theft when you took the car on Tuesday.

Mistake of fact.
Mistakenly taking a car a person believed was theirs, or believed they had permission to take, does not constitute motor vehicle theft. For example, if you drive a car off a car dealership lot believing it was the car you purchased, you have not committed a motor vehicle theft when it turns out that the vehicle is an identical make and model of the car you bought, but not your car.

Temporary deprivation.
If the person who takes the vehicle does not have the intent to permanently deprive an owner of the vehicle's use or possession, they have not committed motor vehicle theft. However, taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, even if it's later returned, would constitute joyriding.

Talk to a Lawyer

Motor vehicle larceny and related crimes are serious offenses. Any time you face a criminal charge or need legal advice, you should talk to a local criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can explain the legal process, possible legal defenses, and any unique challenges your circumstances pose.

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