Whether it be a sporty and exotic foreign car or a run-of-the-mill domestic sedan, taking away a car that is not yours is a crime in Florida. Car theft is a significant problem in the Tampa Bay area, and many people are prosecuted under Florida laws for car theft every year. Below you will find the information you need to know if you find yourself charged with car theft in Florida.
In Florida the crime of car theft is prosecuted as grand theft of a motor vehicle. Under Florida law, to be guilty of grand theft auto, one must
- deprive the owner of a right or benefit to the property, or
- appropriate the property for his own or someone else’s use.
The Florida theft statute names the stealing of a vehicle specifically as grand theft of the third degree, making it also a felony of the third degree.
In Florida, stealing a car by using force, violent assault, or putting in fear is the crime of carjacking, which is a felony of the third degree. If the defendant is alleged to have carried a firearm or other deadly weapon, the crime is a felony of the first degree. Note that the deadly weapon does not need to be used for the act to be a more serious crime, nor does it even need to be brandished. A deadly weapon’s mere presence on the defendant’s person suffices to meet the statutory standard.
Florida statute clarifies a couple of points in its definition of carjacking later in the statute. The act of carjacking is not only the time when one is actually attempting to steal the vehicle, but it continues on as the individual attempts to flee from the situation. Additionally the “taking” of the vehicle is a time prior to, contemporaneous with, or subsequent to the taking of the vehicle, but only if the taking is a continuous series of events.
Grand theft auto is a third degree felony in Florida, which can be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. So too with carjacking if there is no weapon present. If there is a deadly weapon in the possession of a defendant, the crime of carjacking is punished as a first degree felony, with a possible sentence of up to life in prison.
There are a few typical defenses to the crime of car theft in Florida. If the owner of the car that was alleged to have been stolen gave the defendant consent to take or use the car, the court should acquit that defendant on the charge of car theft.
Mistake of fact is another important defense. If the defendant took a vehicle he reasonably thought to be his own but it was not actually his property, a car theft did not occur and an acquittal is appropriate.
If the defendant can show that he has some right to the vehicle, he did not have the required intent to be convicted of car theft in Florida, and a finding of not guilty is the most appropriate result.