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Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyers For Motor Vehicle Theft Charges

It doesn’t matter if you thought you had permission to take the car when a Maryland prosecutor accuses you of motor vehicle theft.

But JC Law will defend your side of the story to the court, so that a misunderstanding over the family car doesn’t land you in jail for years.

What Does Maryland Law Consider To Be Motor Vehicle Theft?

Maryland prosecutors can press motor vehicle theft charges when they allege a defendant takes a vehicle away from the lawful owner without their permission.

Of course, Maryland motor vehicle theft covers the stereotypical “wake up and discover your car is missing from the driveway” or hijacking a vehicle as a getaway car in a dramatic police chase.

However, Maryland law’s definition of motor vehicle theft could mean that criminal charges be brought against:

  • A relative borrows the car for a grocery run without the owner saying it’s alright – even after they return it.
  • An individual drives off a used car lot with a vehicle they thought they owned, but legally didn’t.
  • A babysitter using the family car to take their charges to the playground when they believed the parents had given implicit permission to do so.

These are relatively benign situations, but may still legally constitute motor vehicle theft under Maryland law.

And, petty disputes can escalate into serious charges – such as motor vehicle theft – without the proper legal defense.

Who Actually Owns A Car When It Comes To Motor Vehicle Theft In Maryland?

Maryland law explicitly lays out what it defines as a car’s “owner:”

In this section [about motor vehicle theft], “owner” means a person who has a lawful interest in or is in lawful possession of a motor vehicle by consent or chain of consent of the title owner. (Maryland Criminal Law § 7-105)

So, a car’s “owner” doesn’t have to be the technical legal owner – as in, the person who owns the title of the car – for motor vehicle theft to occur.

This makes a certain amount of sense. After all, many people either lease or finance their personal vehicles, which means it’s the car dealership or a financial institution that technically owns the car.

In everyday life, that means that legally, the person who “bought” the car or who is leasing it is essentially driving it with permission of the title owner, i.e., the dealership or the bank.

That “permission” is part of what “chain of consent of the title owner” means. Therefore, if a financed car is stolen from a driveway or parking garage, then the legal owner-driver who is in “lawful possession” of the vehicle by “chain of consent of the title owner” – the bank or dealership – can file for motor vehicle theft.

That chain of consent can extend even further. If a family member gets permission from the car owner to take their car to the store and the vehicle is then stolen from the parking lot, Maryland law dictates that motor vehicle theft has still occurred against the person “in lawful possession […] by consent.”

Finally, there’s the “lawful interest in” phrase of Maryland’s motor vehicle theft code. That could indicate someone who has a financial stake in the vehicle, such as someone who co-signed on the car. It could also mean someone who has traditionally had access to the car and previous permission to use it.

Or, those perspectives may not apply! It’s all situational.

So, can someone who’s on the title commit motor vehicle theft against another individual who is also on the title? What about if they’re not on the title, but co-signed on the loan to get the car? Can they claim motor vehicle theft if the title-owner sells the car, paying off the loan?

As you can see, aspects such as ownership and permission can get incredibly dicey when motor vehicle theft charges come into play.

What Are Maryland Legal Penalties For Motor Vehicle Theft?

If you’re convicted of motor vehicle theft in Maryland, then you’re looking at a felony sentence of:

  • Up to five years in jail;
  • A fine of up to $5,000; and
  • Either give back the car or pay the owner the “full value” of the vehicle.

That last bit can vary from case to case, depending on the situation. Sometimes, you’d have to pay back the entire original lot value of the car; other times, you pay what the market value would have been at the time of the convicted theft.

How Can A Criminal Defense Lawyer Help With Motor Vehicle Theft Cases?

Clearly, motor vehicle theft can get extremely complicated, extremely quickly. For prosecutors to convict someone on motor vehicle theft charges, they must prove that:

  • The individual actually did take the vehicle in question;
  • They did so on purpose and with intent; and
  • They took the vehicle knowing they did not have the owner’s consent, while they themselves had no legal right to remove the vehicle.

As always, these cases run back to Maryland prosecutors proving a defendant’s “intent.” A great criminal defense lawyer with in-depth knowledge of motor vehicle law can always find gaps in the prosecution’s arguments.

For example, “consent” doesn’t always have to be explicit. If an individual was previously allowed to take the car out for a specific purpose – such as shopping for the household or going to school – then a reasonable individual might assume that such consent continues until revoked. (After all, no one is a mind reader.)

Therefore, without explicit revocation, the alleged car thief didn’t actually “steal” anything at all, since they truly believed they had permission!

The car’s owner also can’t say or otherwise indicate that it was okay to take the car after the act was made, and then later accuse them of motor vehicle theft. The permission was granted – even after the fact – and so it becomes a lawful transfer of possession.

Finally, whether the vehicle was returned after leaving the owner’s possession can play a role in motor vehicle theft charges. Can it really be stolen if it was returned?

That’s for your criminal defense lawyer to say and argue before a Maryland court of law. Give us a call if you’d like our defense team to briefly discuss your case and lay out possible options for your defense.