Is Grand Theft Auto a Felony in Pennsylvania?

Grand theft auto, also known as vehicle theft, is a felony in Pennsylvania. The consequences of stealing a car or other motor vehicle can be severe, including lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. If you are facing vehicle theft charges in Lancaster County, it is vital to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you understand the various vehicle theft crimes in Pennsylvania, the associated penalties, and potential defenses.


Vehicle Theft in Pennsylvania

According to Pennsylvania’s theft statute, vehicle theft occurs when an individual takes, transfers, or exercises control over another person’s vehicle without permission and with the intent to deprive the owner of their property. The value of the stolen vehicle does not affect the severity of the crime. Stealing a $1,000 car carries the same penalties as stealing a $50,000 car. Motor vehicle theft is classified as a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania, carrying a potential sentence of up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.


Robbery of a Motor Vehicle (Carjacking)

In Pennsylvania, carjacking is referred to as “robbery of a motor vehicle” and is defined as stealing a vehicle in the presence of the driver, passenger, or owner. Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania does not require proof of force or threat of force for a carjacking charge. Any theft that occurs while someone is driving or riding in the vehicle constitutes carjacking, which is a first-degree felony. Those convicted of carjacking face up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.


Unauthorized Use of Vehicles (Joyriding) 

Joyriding, or the unauthorized use of an automobile, is another vehicle-related crime in Pennsylvania. This offense occurs when someone operates another person’s motor vehicle without their permission. For example, if a teenager takes their parent’s car without consent and drives it to a friend’s house, they have committed joyriding. This crime is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, and it is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.


Defenses to Vehicle Theft Charges

There are two primary defenses to vehicle-theft-related crimes in Pennsylvania. The first is consent, where the defendant argues that they had (or reasonably believed they had) the owner’s permission to use the vehicle. The second defense is lack of intent, where the defendant claims they did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. In such cases, the crime may be reduced to joyriding rather than motor vehicle theft.


Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys at Chieppor & Egner

If you are facing charges of vehicle theft in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you need the help of an experienced attorney to avoid the harshest consequences of conviction. The seasoned legal team at Chieppor & Egner has the knowledge and skills you need to optimize your chances of a favorable result in your case.

As a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, attorney Jonathan Chieppor handled all auto theft investigations and litigation in Lancaster County. With that kind of inside knowledge of the system, he is uniquely positioned to help you understand your legal options. Call us today at 717-393-1400 or contact us online for a free consultation to learn how we can put our skills to work for you.


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