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Vehicle Theft/'Grand Theft Auto'

“Grand Theft Auto” is much more than a controversial video game series in many states—stealing a motor vehicle escalates what would otherwise be simple theft into a grand theft auto charge that carries much heavier penalties. Although North Carolina’s laws do not contain a separate offense for vehicle theft, local courts, like those around Charlotte and Mooresville, as well as legal practitioners often throw around the term “larceny of a motor vehicle” as if it is its own separate charge.

Grand Theft

Theft crimes can generally be divided into two categories. Petty thefts are usually misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail; grand thefts are usually felonies, punishable by one year or more in prison. Grand theft usually involves the theft of property worth more than a certain dollar amount (frequently between $500 and $1,000). However, in many states where grand theft auto is a separate offense, vehicle theft is always grand theft regardless of how much the vehicle is worth.

How is Auto Theft Charged in Mecklenburg County?

Because there is technically no distinct vehicle theft statute in North Carolina, motor vehicle thefts here are prosecuted under the state’s general larceny, or theft, statute, G.S. 14-72. Under this statute, if the vehicle (or other property) is worth more than $1,000 the crime is generally a misdemeanor. However, G.S. 20-106 makes it a felony to possess a stolen vehicle regardless of its value. For this reason, a person who steals a vehicle worth less than $1,000 can virtually always be charged with a felony in North Carolina.

If the vehicle (or other property) is worth more than $1,000, the larceny is a felony.

These laws contrast with the majority of states that prosecute vehicle theft as its own separate crime and regardless of the worth of the vehicle.

Why is Auto Theft Talked About as if it is its Own Separate Charge in NC?

The computer system that magistrates use to create arrest and charging documents in criminal cases here includes a separate form for “larceny of a motor vehicle.” Because of this, if an officer wants to arrest a person for stealing a computer for example, the arrest warrant will read “larceny.” If the arrest is for theft of a motor vehicle, the arrest warrant will likely read “larceny of a motor vehicle.” Even though the arrests would both be charged under the general larceny statute, the artificial distinction between the two can create the perception that they are two separate charges.

The takeaway? Even though North Carolina does not technically have a “grand theft auto” statute, the effect is the same as it is in many states where the car’s value determines the seriousness of the charge. However, our additional statutory law (G.S. 20-106 ) makes it so that a person can be charged with a felony regardless of how much the vehicle was worth.

Other Vehicle-Related Offenses

North Carolina has specifically criminalized a number of other vehicle-related theft crimes.

  • G.S. 14-72.2: Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The unauthorized use of an aircraft is a Class H felony, while the unauthorized use of any other motor-propelled vehicle is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Unauthorized use is sometimes referred to as “joyriding” and is different from larceny of a motor vehicle or grand theft auto because the person committing it does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.
  • G.S. 14-72.5: Larceny of motor fuel. Theft of less than $1,000 worth of motor fuel such as gasoline from a retail establishment is a Class 1 misdemeanor. More than one conviction for this charge will result in that person’s driver’s license being revoked.
  • G.S. 14-72.8: Felony theft of motor vehicle parts (if the cost of repairing the vehicle would be $1,000 or more). This is a Class 1 felony.
  • G.S. 20-106: Possessing, receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle. Possessing, taking or transferring a vehicle when you know or have “reason to believe” that the vehicle was taken illegally (i.e. is being used without authorization or is stolen) is a Class H felony.

If you have been charged with a crime involving vehicle theft, or any other crime, it is extremely important to consult with an experienced local criminal defense attorney. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a multi-practice criminal and civil litigation firm with locations in Charlotte and Mooresville, North Carolina and serves the surrounding counties. Our dedicated criminal defense attorneys zealously fight for the rights of our clients in the local courtrooms almost every day against a wide variety of criminal charges, including drug charges and driving while impaired (DUI/DWI). Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for a free initial consultation with one of our experienced defense attorneys about your case.