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Auto Theft

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has experienced a dramatic drop in auto thefts over the last two decades according to a report issued by WITF5. While this is good news, there are still more than 14,000 vehicles reported stolen annually. Like other theft statutes in Pennsylvania, there are various degrees of theft associated with automobiles including:

Car Theft

Those who are facing auto theft charges will be facing a third degree felony charge. Even when a vehicle is worth less than $2,000 the charges will still rise to the level of a felony.  A first time offender could be facing jail time of up to seven years and fines up to $15,000.


Anyone who has taken someone’s motor vehicle without their permission could face charges of joyriding.  Unauthorized use of an automobile could result in a second degree misdemeanor offense which could mean up to two years jail time and up to $5,000 in fines.


This is a very specific crime which involves the owner or driver of a vehicle being in the car during the time of the robbery. No violence has to occur for the defendant to be charged with carjacking. The penalties for carjacking, which is a first degree felony, could be as up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $25,000.

Rental Car Theft

Under Pennsylvania statutes, anyone who fails to return a rental car could be facing theft or joyriding charges and in some cases, may face both.

Annual Motor Vehicle Thefts in Pittsburgh

Motor vehicle thefts have remained relatively constant since 2010 with some fluctuation from year to year. Since 2010, 2016 saw the most motor vehicle thefts at 841 while 2017 saw the least at 584. During the remaining years, the number of motor vehicle thefts ranged from 600 to 700. The three areas which experience the most motor vehicle thefts are South Side Flats, Carrick, and East Liberty, which since 2010 have experienced 244, 190, and 184 respectively. All three areas experienced a relatively lower amount of offenses last year in 2017. South Side Flats thefts decreased from 33 to 19 between 2016 and 2017, and East Liberty offenses fell all the way from 41 to 19 in the same time-frame.

The vast majority of motor vehicle thefts occur in the evening (between 5 PM and 11 PM) and are distributed fairly evenly throughout the week. These offenses account for 38% of total violations in a given week. The afternoon (11 AM to 5 PM) and night (11 PM to 5 AM) see a similar number of thefts, observing 22% and 24% of total offenses respectively.

Auto Theft Defenses

Anyone who is facing auto theft charges, regardless of the type of theft charge should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney who understands Pennsylvania theft statutes. Because the penalties are harsh and the fines are steep, an attorney can work with you to determine the exact situation that led to your arrest. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • Owner Consent – If you have received consent from an owner to use their vehicle, such as in the case of a rental car, we can mount a defense based on that consent. For example, if you rented a car and failed to return it on the date it was due because you forgot the return date, this is a good defense.
  • Implied Consent – If you have reason to believe that given the circumstances you faced at the time of using someone’s vehicle the owner would have given permission for you to use the car, we may be able to develop a defense based on that belief. One example of this is if your child was injured and you needed to get to the hospital immediately and you took your neighbors car, it is possible that had the neighbor been aware of the situation, they would have loaned the car to you because of the emergency.
  • Intent – In order to prove you have stolen a car, the prosecutor must prove you had the intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle. In the event they are not able to prove this, the more serious felony charge of theft could be reduced to a misdemeanor charge of joyriding.

Being accused of stealing a vehicle is very serious and you should never take it lightly. Like any other criminal charge you are found guilty of, you could have a life-long criminal record that will dog you forever. Anytime you are arrested and charged with any car theft charge, you should contact a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney who understands the theft laws and is willing to fight hard to get the charges reduced or dropped completely. You should contact an attorney immediately upon your arrest to ensure you do not say anything that could later be used against you in a court proceeding.

Contact DRK Lawyers in Pittsburgh for a Free Consultation

Learn more about our federal fraud defense services by calling our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-6869 or by sending our legal team an email.We can discuss your charges and your options for moving forward during your free initial consultation.