An update on aggravated motor vehicle theft in CO: What are the charges and penalties?
Colorado officials are cracking down on auto theft in the state. These efforts are supported by a sharp increase in auto theft crimes, especially in the Denver area. According to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Colorado topped the nation for auto theft and rates more than doubled from 13,000 in 2019 to over 27,000 in 2021. The area around the airport has also noted an increase in car thefts. It reported an average of 46 car thefts from the first four months of 2019, 2020, and 2021 but this number increased to 139 the first four months of 2022.
What does this mean for Colorado residents?
In addition to efforts by enforcement officers to encourage residents to lock their cars and take precautions to reduce the risk of theft, it also means increased efforts to crackdown on the issue. One way enforcement officers are increasing efforts and aggressively addressing the issue is by joining the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force. The organization includes different counties from throughout Colorado that work together to use statewide, cooperative efforts to address the issue.
Although efforts to address crime in neighborhoods throughout the state is generally a good thing, aggressive efforts can lead to false charges.
In this example, the task force is just the beginning. Enforcement officers are also pushing for legislative changes that focus on increased sentencing guidelines and the availability of additional charges for property crimes like auto theft. State leaders are also calling for increased prosecution efforts to hold those who are connected with these crimes accountable. Representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union disagree with these efforts and argue that there is no data to support that aggressive measures like increased prosecution and pre-trial lockup reduce auto theft. Instead, they say proactive measures like increased lighting to focus on creating safe neighborhoods are more effective.
Is the task force effective?
A recent investigation by the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force resulted in criminal charges against eleven people in connection with the theft of over 130 vehicles throughout Denver. The prosecution claims the group would break into repair shops and steal multiple vehicles at once. The eleven currently face a total of 75 criminal charges for over $3.1 million in property theft.
75 charges. When in this type of situation it can be difficult for an individual who is accidentally caught up in the enforcement effort to make their own, separate case — to stand out from the crowd and make their innocence known especially in a culture that is pushing for increased prosecution numbers.
Unfortunately the issue is not a new one. The state started clamping down on car thefts about two years ago, as discussed in detail in a previous article available here, but residents throughout the state continue to get swept up in well-meaning law enforcement efforts.
What happens if officers say I stole a car?
Because it is possible to get swept up in these raids, it is important to have an idea of what you face. These charges are serious and come with harsh penalties. Colorado state law defines these crimes based on the value of the property. Theft of goods valued between $50 and $2,000 generally result in misdemeanor charges. A conviction for the theft of a good that was from $50 to $300 in value can come with Class 3 misdemeanor charges and up to six months in jail or a $50 to $750 fine. Goods that range from $300 to $750 in value come with a Class 2 misdemeanor and a conviction can led to up to 12 months in prison and $250 to $1,000 in fines while the theft of a good that is $750 to $2,000 in value is a Class 1 misdemeanor and can come with up to 18 months in prison and a $500 to $5,000 fine.
The state can move forward with felony charges when the vehicle at issue is worth over $2,000. This can break down as follows:
- Class 2 felony. This applies for vehicles worth over $1 million and can come with up to 24 years imprisonment and a $1 million fine.
- Class 3 felony. These charges are available for vehicles that range from $100,000 to $1 million in value and can come with up to 12 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
- Class 4 felony. For vehicles that range from $20,000 to $100,000 in value and can come with up to six years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
- Class 5 felony. Theft of vehicles from $5,000 to $20,000 in value punishable by 3 years in prion and $100,000 in fines.
- Class 6 felony. Applies for the those valued at $2,000 to $5,000 and can result in 1.5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Know that there are defenses to these crimes, including innocence, that can result in a reduction or even dismissal of charges. An attorney experienced in criminal defense for these types of cases can review your situation, discuss your options and advocate for your rights throughout the process.