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Can the police charge me with theft for borrowing a car?

Perhaps you or a loved one asked to borrow a friend of family member’s car for a quick errand or weekend getaway. You get behind the wheel and are on your way when you hear sirens and notice flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. You pull over only to face allegations of car theft.

How did this happen? Can you really face criminal charges when the owner lent you the vehicle?

Although the exact answer will depend on the details of the situation, it is possible to face criminal charges in this type of situation. You will need to show that the owner lent you the vehicle to defeat the claim and that other factors did not shift the borrowing relationship into one of theft. Some examples could include not returning the vehicle if the owner asks for it back or attempting to sell it while in your possession.

Why would police pursue these types of allegations?

Car theft is a problem in Colorado. The state has taken steps to address this issue, including the use of an aggressive police task force to investigate and arrest potential offenders and legislation to lockup those accused of these crimes before they even get to go trial to defend themselves — both of which and current penalties for these types of crimes were discussed in more detail in a previous article available here.

Although residents throughout the state agree with the need to address this issue, these tactics can result in wrongful arrests for situations like the one discussed above. As if that was not concerning enough, if lawmakers have their way the stakes will get even higher.

Why will the stakes for auto theft get higher?

Lawmakers in Colorado are moving along a new proposal that would change the way they can prosecute theft crimes in the state. Current law allows the state to move forward with charges based on the value of the vehicle. If a lower valued vehicle, the odds of a felony are much lower. If, for example, the vehicle is worth less than $2,000 the prosecution could move forward with charges for a class 1 misdemeanor. Felony charges were reserved for vehicles with higher values.

If this proposal continues to move forward, the prosecution will have much more flexibility to push for felony charges even when the vehicle in question is of a low value.

What do I need to know about this proposal?

Three things every Coloradoan should know include:

  • It is a proposal. It is not law yet. Although approved and moved forward by the Senate it still needs to move forward through the House. If both pass, it moves forward to the Governor for review.
  • It is based on behavior. Instead of the value of the vehicle, the behavior of stealing the car is enough to result in felony charges.
  • The consequences are greater. If it becomes law and prosecutors use the ability to charge those accused of stealing a care with a felony, the penalties are much more severe compared to those that come with a misdemeanor, as is current law for certain car theft crimes.

We will provide updates if this bill continues to move forward.

What does this mean for those facing theft crimes in Colorado?

Theft is a serious allegation. It is important to keep in mind that the consequences will extend beyond any deal offered by the police. Do not think you can explain that you were borrowing the vehicle, and all will be forgiven. Do not believe that you can pay a fine, serve a short sentence, and be done. A conviction will impact your future and can make it difficult to get a loan, scholarship, and even housing.

Know that you have options. You can build a defense to these allegations and have an advocate on your side fighting for the most favorable outcome possible. An attorney experienced in this niche area of Colorado law can review the facts of the situation, proposed charges, applicable law, and court happenings to help develop the best plan to address the problem and move on with your life.