Auto Theft Laws in South Carolina

Under South Carolina’s laws, motor vehicle theft is a serious crime. Related offenses, such as carjacking, joyriding, and failing to return a rental car, are also prohibited. For more general information on motor vehicle theft, see Grand Theft Auto.

Theft

South Carolina law does not specifically define theft, but under general principles of law, a person commits theft by taking property that belongs to another person without permission and with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property. In order to show that a person has an intent to permanently deprive another of property, the prosecutor just needs to show that the defendant intends to use the car in a way that prevents the owner from using it. For example, a person who steals a car and then abandons it could still be found guilty of theft, even if the car is recovered. For more general information on theft, see South Carolina Petty Theft and Larceny Laws.

Classifying Theft

South Carolina, like many states, classifies thefts according to the value of the stolen property. The more valuable the stolen property, the more severely the theft is punished. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-13-30.)

Carjacking

Carjacking is a very serious offense. A person in South Carolina commits the crime of carjacking by taking (or attempting to take) a motor vehicle from someone else by force, violence, or intimidation while the victim is operating or inside a vehicle. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-1075.) Carjacking is punished more severely if the crime results in great bodily injury.

Joyriding

South Carolina also has laws against joyriding, a less serious offense than theft. A person commits the crime of joyriding by taking, driving, or using a vehicle without permission. Joyriding is punished less severely if the person only takes the car temporarily and for some reason unconnected to the commission of any crime. For example, a child who takes a parent’s car to drive to a friend’s house could be convicted of joyriding. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-21-60.) For more information, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?

Failing to Return a Rental Car

In South Carolina, lawmakers have also criminalized failing to return a rental car. This crime is committed if the defendant either fails to return a rental vehicle within 72 hours of the end of the rental period or uses the vehicle in some way that is not permitted by the rental agreement, such as by taking a car out of the country without permission. Similar to theft, the punishment for failing to return a rental car depends on the value of the stolen property. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-13-420.)

Defenses

There are two main defenses to motor vehicle theft.

Consent. The first commonly used defense is that the defendant had the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle or believed that he or she had the owner’s 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.

Intent. The second commonly used 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.

Punishment

Theft of property worth $2,000 or less is punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. Theft of property worth more than $2,000 but less than $10,000 is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. Theft of property worth more than $10,000 is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine. Failing to return a rental car is punishable in the same way as theft, with three possible sentences depending on the value of the rental property.

Carjacking is punishable by up to 30 years in prison if it results in injury and up to 20 years in prison if there is no injury. Joyriding in which a person takes a car temporarily and not in order to commit or flee from a crime is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Otherwise, joyriding is punishable by up to three years in prison. For more information on sentencing, see South Carolina Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and South Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

A conviction for theft, carjacking, joyriding, or failing to return a rental car can result in time in prison or jail, fines, and a criminal record, which can have a lasting and unpleasant impact. The best way to avoid a criminal conviction is to obtain the assistance of an experienced South Carolina criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law, answer your questions, and help you successfully navigate the criminal justice system.

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