Motor vehicle theft (New York Penal Law 165.05 & 165.06) is a serious crime in the state of New York. In addition to theft, New York penalizes several other behaviors involving motor vehicles. Whether a vehicle is stolen or being driven without permission of the owner, one particular crime that may be charged in New York is Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in the Second and Third Degrees pursuant to New York Penal Law sections 165.06 and 165.05 respectively.

These are the types of motor vehicle theft that are criminal in New York:

  • Joyriding: Joyriding is taking or using a vehicle without the intent to permanently deprive the owner it. Anyone who takes, controls, operates, or otherwise uses a vehicle without the owner’s permission commits the crime of unauthorized use of a vehicle. It is either a Class E or D felony, or a Class A misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the joyriding.
  • Carjacking: Carjacking occurs when a person, through use of force, threat of force, or display of a weapon, takes a vehicle from someone. Carjacking in New York is punished as a robbery in the second degree (involving a vehicle), and is a Class C felony offense. Carjacking is a violent crime and punished accordingly.

The punishments for motor vehicle theft can vary given the charge imposed. For example, someone convicted of motor vehicle theft commits a Class E felony, and faces up to four years in prison. On the other hand, someone who commits a carjacking (a type of motor vehicle theft which is a Class C felony), can face up to 15 years in prison. It can also be pleaded down to a misdemeanor given the situations.

A few successful defenses could be available to someone faced with a motor vehicle theft charge, though the specific defenses available will differ significantly depending on the circumstances. The following defenses are sometimes used in motor vehicle theft cases:

  • Consent: If you have an owner’s consent to take a vehicle, you do not commit auto theft. This defense sometimes arises because the person taking the vehicle might have misunderstood the terms of permission the owner granted. For example, if your friend agrees to let you borrow his car on Thursday but you mistakenly believed it was Tuesday, you do not commit motor vehicle theft if you take the car on Tuesday.
  • Mistake of fact: Mistakenly taking a car you believed was yours, or one you mistakenly believed you had permission to take, is not motor vehicle theft. For example, if you drive a car off a car dealer lot believing it was the car you purchased, you have not committed a motor vehicle theft if it turns out that the vehicle is an identical make and model of the car you bought, but not your car.
  • Permanent deprivation: You have to have the intent to permanently deprive an owner of a vehicle’s use or possession to be convicted of motor vehicle theft. Intending to use the car and later return it, though without the owner’s consent, is joyriding, not theft.

There are few (if any) differences in the statues on motor vehicle theft as they are both defined as the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. The federal government legislates this crime to the state level unless it is part of an ongoing multi-state criminal organization.

In November 2015, 14 people were arrested for their participation in a car-theft ring stole more than 70 luxury vehicles from Kennedy and La Guardia airports and shipped them to Africa. Two of the defendants fraudulently rented a Chevy Camaro, Chrysler 300, Mercedes-Benz, Infinti and other luxe rides from Avis, Hertz and National. But instead of returning the vehicles, they sold them to brokers who put them into containers in The Bronx and shipped them with bogus documents to accomplices in countries in West Africa — including Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They were all charged with motor vehicle theft and running a criminal organization.