In the State of Utah, auto theft is not a crime you want to be charged with. You can receive years in prison and have to pay thousands in criminal fines for an auto theft offense. It is even possible to be prosecuted for the theft of a vehicle that you did not commit. If you or a family member was charged with auto theft, you should consult with an experienced Salt Lake City theft lawyer today. Darwin Overson has represented clients in several complex auto theft cases and is prepared to represent you. Overson & Bugden is here to explain what to do about your auto theft charges in Utah.
Utah Laws Against Auto Theft
Title 76 of Utah’s Criminal Code deals with the theft of motor vehicles. This law makes it a crime to steal an “operable motor vehicle.” This means the vehicle that was stolen must be able to drive. Typically, the price of the property a person steals would play a role in determining the penalty that person would receive. However, under Utah law, auto theft is automatically charged as a second degree felony.
Utah has had issues with auto theft for years. With nearly 7,000 auto thefts in 2016, those issues do not appear to be going away anytime soon. This is one of the reasons for strict penalties for auto theft laws.
Another offense that has potential to be charged like auto theft is “receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer.” This law makes it illegal for a person to “procure” or “pass title to a motor vehicle” they know is stolen or have reason to know is stolen. It is also illegal for a person to possess a motor vehicle they know or have reason to know is stolen. Both of these actions are charged as second degree felonies.
It is also important to know that Utah enforces laws against crimes committed by “criminal street gangs.” Utah defines a criminal street gang as an association of “three or more persons, whether operated formally or informally” that are:
- “[C]urrently in operation”
- Commits “predicate gang crimes” as one of its “primary activities”
- Have identified themselves using a certain name, symbol, or both
- Have one or more members who act individually or together to “engage in a pattern of criminal activity”
A “predicate gang crime” is a crime used to further a criminal gang and commonly includes offenses like “receiving or transferring stolen vehicles” through “chop shop” rings and other gang activities.
What Penalties Can You Receive for Violating Utah’s Motor Vehicle Theft Laws?
As mentioned above, auto theft and reception or possession of a stolen vehicle are both second degree felonies. Second degree felonies are major crimes and the third most serious category of felonies in Utah after capital and first degree felonies.
Second degree felonies carry a possible prison term of one to 15 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. If you are charged with auto theft and the prosecution alleges that the theft was committed to further the interests of a criminal street gang, your felony offense will be “enhanced.” This means that your second degree auto theft felony will be upgraded to a first degree auto theft felony. In Utah, the penalty for first degree felony starts at five years in prison and could result in a maximum sentence of life in prison.
How to Handle Your Vehicle Theft Offense in Utah
One of the first and most important actions you need to complete after being charged with vehicle theft is to retain an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer should be present throughout all parts of the criminal proceeding. You should not speak with law enforcement or engage in any court hearings without the assistance of your Salt Lake City auto theft lawyer.
You and your lawyer should also discuss any mitigating factors that may help alleviate the severity of the offense. One mitigating factor that can help you is being “exceptionally cooperative” with law enforcement. Additionally, if this is your first criminal offense, you should discuss the possibility of enrolling in criminal rehabilitation programs. Utah has an interest in preventing first-time offenders from committing additional crimes and may see you as a perfect candidate for treatment. If the offender had a developmental disability when they committed auto theft, this might also qualify as a mitigating factor to secure a less severe penalty.
You should also discuss your defense strategy with your lawyer. For example, if you are charged with auto theft because you bought a car you did not know was stolen, you should focus on developing a strategy that proves you were not aware of this fact. To discuss whether or not your auto theft charges may be distinguished as “wrongful appropriation” for the temporary theft of the vehicle, contact our Salt Lake City wrongful appropriation lawyers today.
Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Are Here to Fight Your Auto Theft Case
If you or a family member was charged with auto theft, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Darwin Overson understands how stressful criminal charges like auto theft can be, and he is here to guide you through your case. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (801) 758-2287 or reach us online.