Florida criminalizes motor vehicle theft and joyriding under its general theft laws. In addition, Florida has laws specifically addressing the crimes of carjacking, operating chop shops, and failing to return rented or leased vehicles.
Motor Vehicle Theft in Florida
In Florida, theft includes obtaining or using another’s property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently or temporarily. Theft can occur through a physical taking of property, as well as by exercising control over property, obtaining property by fraud or false pretenses, or converting the property to unauthorized use.
Because the theft law applies to temporary as well as permanent takings, a person who takes a vehicle for a joyride commits theft just like a person who outright steals a vehicle intending to keep it.
Theft that involves a “motor vehicle” isn’t limited to just automobiles. By definition, a motor vehicle also includes motorcycles, trucks, semitrailers, trailers, and any other vehicle operated on roads used to transport persons or property, and propelled by power other than muscular (human) power. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 320.01 (2020); Medrano v. State, 199 So.3d 413 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2016).)
Grand Theft Auto (and Joyriding)
All motor vehicle thefts constitute felonies in Florida. The penalties for grand theft auto (including joyriding) depend on the value of the vehicle and the circumstances involved in the crime.
Third-degree felony. Stealing a motor vehicle valued at less than $20,000 constitutes a felony in the third degree. A third-degree felony carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine up to $5,000.
Second-degree felony. A person who steals a vehicle valued at $20,000 or more but less than $100,000 commits a felony in the second degree. A person convicted of a felony in the second degree faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
First-degree felony. It’s a first-degree felony to steal a semitrailer deployed by a law enforcement officer or any vehicle valued at $100,000 or more. A person also commits a felony in the first degree by using a motor vehicle (other than as a getaway vehicle) to commit any grand theft offense. A person convicted of a felony in the first degree faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
(Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 812.014 (2020).)
Carjacking involves stealing a vehicle from a person using force or violence or by instilling fear in the victim. Considered a violent felony, carjacking constitutes a first-degree felony. If the offender carried a firearm or deadly weapon during the offense, the penalty is life imprisonment. In all other cases, the offender faces up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 812.133 (2020).)
Operating a Chop Shop
Any person who owns or operates a chop shop commits a felony in the third degree, punishable by five years in prison. A “chop shop” means any area or building where a person (or persons) alters, dismantles, reassembles, or conceals stolen vehicles or major parts from at least two vehicles. In addition to imprisonment or fines, an offender must make restitution to the vehicles’ rightful owners or their insurance company (if the losses were covered). All of the stolen vehicles and parts, as well as equipment used in the chop shop (machines, tools, wreckers, car haulers), can be seized and forfeited. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 812.16 (2020).)
Failure to Return a Rental Car
Any person who fails to return a rental vehicle after the end of the contract period without the consent of the rental company is guilty of a felony in the third degree. The rental agreement must provide notice of possible criminal penalties for failure to return the vehicle. A third-degree felony carries a prison term of up to five years and a $5,000 fine. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 812.155.)
Florida’s sentencing statutes allow enhanced penalties for habitual (repeat) felony offenders. The enhancement depends on the seriousness of the current offense and the seriousness and number of prior offenses. For instance, a third-time felony offender might face an enhanced sentence that is double what can normally be imposed. Violent felony offenders, which include carjackers, can receive even harsher penalties. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 775.084 (2020).)
Talk to a Lawyer
If you’re facing felony charges for any of the above offenses, speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice process, protect your rights, and work to obtain the best outcome in your case.
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