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Motor vehicle theft: More than simple breaking and entering

On Behalf of | May 3, 2024 | CRIMINAL DEFENSE - Theft

When most people think of motor vehicle theft, they envision someone breaking into a car and driving away with it.

However, Maryland’s laws on motor vehicle theft are broader and encompass various actions beyond just breaking and entering.

State law’s broad definition of motor vehicle theft

According to Maryland law, a person is guilty of motor vehicle theft if they knowingly and willfully take a motor vehicle out of the owner’s lawful custody, control or use without the owner’s consent. This definition can extend beyond physically breaking into a vehicle.

There are two instances that don’t involve violently breaking into a car where this definition applies.

Deception and trickery

State law covers situations where an individual uses deception or trickery to obtain possession of a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent. For example, if someone borrows a car under false pretenses – such as claiming they need it for an emergency – and then fails to return it, they could face charges for motor vehicle theft.

Unauthorized use

Even if a person has initially obtained a motor vehicle legally, they can still be guilty of theft if they continue to use the vehicle without the owner’s consent. For instance, if someone rents a car and then refuses to return it after the rental period has ended, the rental company could accuse them of theft.

The penalties for motor vehicle theft

If a court convicts a person of motor vehicle theft, the person potentially faces up to five years of imprisonment and $5,000 in fines.

In addition, the person may be ordered by the court to return the vehicle. If the person is unable to return the vehicle for any reason, the court can instead order the person to pay the owner the full value of the automobile.

Because Maryland laws have a broad scope of what’s considered motor vehicle theft, people should avoid “borrowing” cars without permission or the intent to return them. However, if you face charges, don’t underestimate what a conviction can lead to. A legal professional may be able to analyze the specific circumstances of your case and explore potential defenses.