Is Grand Theft Auto a Felony?

This forum receives queries in re: whether certain offenses are felonies, and we’re happy to oblige with relevant information.

Accordingly, we’ll delve into the details in a moment; first, however, you need to be free from confusion in your own mind about how to avoid being charged with a felony (or misdemeanor) of any kind.

There’s only one way: steer clear of trouble with the law and don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t have done unto you.

Can’t get any simpler than that!

Now, if this bit of advice comes a bit late and you’re already convicted of a crime—Grand Theft Auto, for instance—the legal consequences CAN include a felony charge. It depends on the area where the crime took place and on the facts…and this is something you and your attorney or public defender will have to explore in the privacy of your closed-door session.

What, Exactly, Encompasses Grand Theft?

The generic denomination of Grand Theft (versus Grand Theft Auto) can best be described as entailing the theft of money and/or of property. (This is different from robbery, which involves the use of force.)
The act –also referred to in some instances as Grand Larceny—is viewed as a serious crime.

Keep in mind that, even ‘though the occurrence may be common in some parts of the country, you won’t always read the term in newspapers or hear it on the news because it’s often wrapped up in other offences which were carried out at the same time. These include robbery or white collar crimes.

Again, as to whether the alleged perpetrator is charged as a felon, it depends on the jurisdiction and on the facts of the case, However, you should know that most jurisdictions do consider grand theft a felony.

Is The Amount of Money An Issue?

A determinant factor in Grand Theft is money, as a matter of fact. The defendant who is so charged will have stolen in excess of anywhere from $500 to $1,000. The actual amount? Depends on the state where the crime occurred.

And Grand Theft Auto?

Grand Theft Auto is theft as described above (i.e., not necessarily entailing force), but involving an automobile. Another mitigating factor: the vehicle had to have been taken with the intent to keep it permanently.

Let’s create a scenario. We’ll say you climbed into your pal’s Volvo because you saw the door to the driver’s seat open. Being a good friend, you wanted to see that everything checked out OK.

Glimpsing the key in the ignition, you decided, on the spur of the moment, to take it for a short ride to pick up some groceries. Of course, you brought your friend’s car right back.

Case closed, as that wouldn’t fall under the category of Grand Theft Auto. Why? It lacked the nefarious intent of wanting to abscond with property that didn’t rightfully belong to you.

However, let’s go out on a limb here and conjecture that you stopped the car at some point. Seeing another friend, you decided on the spur of the moment to offer him or her some part of your friend’s vehicle…the GPS, for instance.

We’ll assume, too, that your friend buys the GPS.

It was at that point that you did, indeed, commit Grand Theft Auto.

Note: we’re using the example of an automobile, here, but, in reality, you can substitute any such vehicle, such as an RV, a camper, a motorcycle or a boat.

Wow. So One Needs To Have Met ALL Those Criteria?

Yep. We’ll lay it out further. If you participated in, or initiated all of the following. or if each one of these four criteria were met:

a) The taking or driving away of the vehicle;
b) The vehicle did not rightfully belong to you;
c) You did not stop to obtain permission to drive the vehicle away; and
d) The alleged defendant (you, in this scenario), had INTENDED to deprive the rightful owner of possession of said property

…only then might you be charged with Grand Theft Auto. (It’s up to the prosecutor to develop the case against the plaintiff, which might then result in a conviction.)

Got It. But Isn’t That the Same as Carjacking?

Good question. It’s not the same. Here’s how we’re defining the two. In order for an act to be deemed a Carjacking offense, there had to have been violence or a forceful theft of said vehicle. (Too, intimidation or the fear factor could have been implemented in order for the perpetrator to gain control.)

In a Grand Theft Auto crime, the vehicle is removed or driven away. A robbery and a carjacking offense may overlap; however, a carjacking specifically refers to the taking of a motor vehicle.

One Last Question. What If A Person Under 21 Committed the Crime?

As mentioned earlier, grand theft is viewed as a serious crime. However, if the perpetrator is under 21, they’re eligible to be treated as a youthful offender, which might mitigate the penalty. For that to happen, a judge has to sentence a defendant as a juvenile. In many states, underage offenders are processed through juvenile detention facilities, and their sentences are capped at a lower number than would be the case with “adult” offenders.

Too, underage offenders are more likely to qualify for probation.

An exception exists when the courts rule that a repeat offender should be treated as an adult.

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