Traffic law in Pennsylvania is full of pitfalls, from speeding and reckless driving statutes to DUI and hit-and-run laws. Most of these problems can be avoided with vigilance and care, but sometimes, whether by poor choices or circumstances beyond their control, drivers find themselves facing the long arm of the law. This can happen, for example, when a driver uses a car that doesn’t belong to him without getting consent from the owner, a crime known as unlawful use of a motor vehicle.
If you are facing unlawful use of motor vehicle charges in the Pennsylvania area, call Brian Manchester, an experienced unlawful use of motor vehicle defense attorney in Pennsylvania. Call today. It is important to start working on your defense right away.
Unlawful Use of Motor Vehicle: A Type of Theft in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law classifies unlawful use of a motor vehicle (a statute technically known as unauthorized use of automobiles and other vehicles) as a type of larceny, essentially a lesser degree of auto theft. Under this statute it is a crime to operate an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat or other motor-propelled vehicle when it belongs to someone else and that person has not given her consent. Unlawful use of a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by as many as two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Unlawful Use of Motor Vehicle vs. Auto Theft in Pennsylvania
Unlawful use of a motor vehicle is one type of vehicle larceny. General auto theft, by contrast, is a second-degree felony with much stiffer penalties: as many as 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The key difference between the two is the kind of tactics used to gain control of the car. Auto theft involves the use of physical taking, deception or extortion, while these elements are absent in unlawful use of a motor vehicle. Common examples of the unlawful use of a motor vehicle are the driver who refuses to return a borrowed car or the driver who assumes possession of a car from another driver who stole it (in which case the receiving driver may also be open to charges of receiving stolen property). Carjacking, meanwhile, is a separate crime and a first-degree felony with penalties including as many as 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. A final type of auto theft, theft from a motor vehicle, carries penalties of as many as seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine if the stolen property is worth more than $200 and the crime is a third or subsequent offense.
Defenses to Unlawful Use of Motor Vehicle in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania law, it is a specific defense to a charge of unlawful use of a motor vehicle if you reasonably believed the owner of the car would have consented to your using it had he known. The belief must be objectively reasonable. In other words, it is not enough that you personally believed the owner would not mind your using his car. You must be able to convince the court that an ordinary person would have reached the same conclusion under the circumstances. Alternatively, you may be able to argue that you genuinely believed you had consent. Again, you must establish you had an objectively reasonable belief.