Automobile Theft Related Criminal Offenses

There are a number of different criminal offenses related to the stealing or unlawful use of an automobile in Michigan.  If charged with one of these offenses, you should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as attorney Daniel Hilf.

Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile (UDAA) is a felony in Michigan that carries a maximum sentence of 5 years of incarceration. To prove this crime, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant did either buy, possess, conceal, or aid in the concealment of a stolen motor vehicle, knowing or having reason to know or reason to believe that the motor vehicle was stolen, embezzled, or converted. The prosecution must prove that this was done without authority or without the owner’s permission. Also, it does not matter if the Defendant intended to keep the vehicle.

Unlawful Use of an Automobile (Unlawful Use of a Motor Vehicle) is a lesser offense of Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile. The difference between these two offenses is that Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile involves the unlawful taking of the Motor Vehicle in the first place. Unlawful Use of an Automobile applies if the Defendant got possession of the vehicle lawfully in the first place but then used it in a way that he or she knew was unauthorized.

Unlawful Use of an Automobile is a felony in Michigan that carries a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison. To prove Unlawful Use of an Automobile the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant used a motor vehicle that belonged to someone else, without their authority, and intended to use the motor vehicle knowing that he or she did not have the authority to do so. The most common example of this offense is when an individual rents a car from a rental company such as Hertz or Avis and does not return the vehicle on the agreed upon date without making an arrangement to keep the car longer. Sometimes this offense occurs when a girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, or employer gives an individual a car to use and the individual either refuses to return the car or cannot be located at the time the vehicle was supposed to be returned.    An employee who has authority to drive someone else’s vehicle is guilty only if he or she drives or uses the vehicle without the owner’s permission and in a way the employee knew was unauthorized.

Anyone who assists in taking possession of a vehicle, the concealment of the vehicle, or assists in driving or taking away a vehicle knowing that the vehicle was unlawfully possessed can also be charged with these offenses if the assistance was given with the intention of helping another commit this crime.  Hence, someone who aids and abets another in the commission of any of these crimes can also be prosecuted.

The Prosecution will sometimes charge the crimes of Receiving and Concealing a Stolen Motor Vehicle (a 5 year maximum felony), Receiving and Concealing Stolen Property having a Value of $20,000 or more or with priors (a 10 year felony), or Receiving and Concealing Stolen Property having a Value of $1,000 to $20,000 (a 5 year felony) instead of charging Unlawfully Driving Away a Motor Vehicle. The Prosecution can also consider misdemeanor charges of Receiving and Concealing Stolen Property between $200 and $1,000 or joyriding when negotiated or otherwise appropriate.

There are several other important criminal law related automobile offenses in which it is necessary to have experienced criminal legal representation:

Owning, Operating, or Conducting a Chop Shop (a 10 year maximum felony) – A chop shop is any area, building, storage lot, field, or other premises or place where 1 or more persons who are or have engaged in altering, dismantling, reassembling, or in any way concealing or disguising the identity of a stolen motor vehicle or any major component part of a stolen motor vehicle OR any area, building, storage lot, field, or other premises or place where there are 3 or more stolen motor vehicles present or where there are major component parts from 3 or more stolen motor vehicles present. Persons accused of operating, owning, or conducting a chop shop are subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and seizure of assets.

False Statement in Application for Certificate of Title or in Assignment of Title (a 10 year maximum felony) – Any person who shall knowingly make any false statement of a material fact, either in his or her application for the certificate of title, or an assignment of title, or who, with intent to procure or pass title to a motor vehicle which he or she knows or has reason to believe has been stolen, shall receive or transfer possession of the same from or to another, or who shall have in his or her possession any vehicle which he or she knows or has reason to believe has been stolen and is not an officer engaged in lawful duties can be charged with this offense.

Altering, Forging, or Falsifying Documents – A person who alters, forges, counterfeits with intent a certificate of title, registration, certificate, or registration plate, or who holds, uses, possesses, sells, or offers for sales a stolen, false, or counterfeit certificate of title, registration certificate, registration plate, registration decal, or registration tab can be charged with a 5 year maximum felony for a first offense, 7 year maximum felony for a second offense for the same, and 15 year felony for a third or subsequent offense for the same. Persons convicted of this offense for a second time are subject to a 2 year minimum prison sentence, and persons convicted for a third or subsequent offense for this offense are subject a minimum 5 year prison sentence.

A person that buys, sells, or obtains with intent to sell or dispose of a motor vehicle knowing the VIN was altered can be charged in Michigan with a 10 year maximum felony. If a person conceals, or misrepresents the identity of a motor vehicle with intent to mislead, he or she can face a 4 year maximum felony in Michigan. For this particular offense the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant hid or misrepresented the identity of a motor vehicle or a mechanical device in or from the motor vehicle by either removing or damaging the manufacture’s serial number, the engine or motor number on the motor vehicle, or replacing the part of the vehicle or mechanical device that had the manufacturer’s serial number or engine or motor number on it with a new part that did not have the correct number on it, and at the time he or she did this to mislead someone else about the identity of the motor vehicle.

If such an allegation is made against you it is recommended that you first exercise your right to remain silent and second hire a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after your arrest for the following reasons:

1.    You have a better chance of receiving a reasonable bail or bond through effective legal representation;
2.    The lawyer can prepare the case for preliminary examination to work for possible dismissal, lay the groundwork for possible motions, develop testimony to impeach witnesses, and develop defenses for trial.
3.  If you want to fight the case at trial, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney to prepare and conduct the trial to give you the best chance of winning.  .
4.    If you plan to plead guilty, the Defense lawyer can work to achieve the best result through possible plea bargains, possible Cobbs agreements, persuasive lawyering, proper scoring of the Michigan Sentence Guidelines, successful arguments concerning possible sentencing options such as HYTA – Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, SAI Bootcamp, drug and alcohol treatment.  Every case is different, and whether or not the factors in this paragraph apply depends upon your history, the facts of the allegation, the Prosecutor’s office, and the Judge assigned to the case.
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Hiring the right criminal defense lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you make for yourself and your family. There are many lawyers who claim to do more than what they are able – just as there are many surgeons in the world that are no better than butchers. Do not settle for a legal hack job. Practicing law is a skill that develops over time with experience, commitment, dedication, and God given talent. There are no amateur attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC – only professionals that are guided by the humanity in the individuals we serve, and the drive not to settle for what is easy over what is right.
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