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Public health emergency brings explosion of vehicle theft in Denver

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2021 | Criminal Defense Articles |

If you are swept up in the law enforcement effort to clamp down on car theft in Colorado, consult with a criminal defense attorney as early as possible.

Colorado, but especially Denver, has seen a sharp increase in car theft during the current health emergency – and police were surprised, according to the Denver Post. A reflection of a phenomenon happening across the nation, Coloradans have unfortunately not been spared.

Looking at data from the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (C-MATT), kdvr.com reports that monthly numbers in Denver metro area auto thefts for the first three months of 2021 as compared to those months in 2020 show increases of 116% in January, 124% in February and 87% in March.

And Denver-area vehicle thefts rose almost 55% in 2020 when the pandemic began as compared to 2019 numbers.

The jury is still out on why this is happening, but some of the factors cited in the media include:

  • People taking vehicles because they need them
  • People using stolen vehicles to commit economic crimes
  • People selling stolen autos or their contents for money
  • Vehicles sitting unchecked for long periods of time while owners work from home

Aggressive law enforcement can cast a questionably wide net

Denver-area law enforcement is taking auto theft seriously. According to CBSN Denver, in 2020, police recovered an amazing 87% of stolen vehicles in the metro area. This suggests that people who commit this crime are not flying under the radar and that authorities are prioritizing this problem.

Of course, any time law enforcement uses focused policing to confront a problem, the possibility exists that innocent people will get swept up in arrests through no fault of their own. Or, anxious to stop auto thieves, some officers may cut corners and violate legal and constitutional rights of defendants. Sometimes, in the effort to deter others, prosecutors may charge defendants with crimes more serious than the evidence supports.

Colorado auto theft law

Colorado law recognizes the crime of aggravated motor vehicle theft in either the first or second degree. The definition of “motor vehicle” for this purpose is extremely broad, “all vehicles of whatever description propelled by any power other than muscular, except vehicles running on rails.”

Aggravated motor vehicle theft is committed if a person knowingly takes control of a motor vehicle owned by someone else. The person must either know they are not authorized to exercise control over the vehicle or use “threat or deception” to do so.

These elements of the crime, if present, constitute aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree. These elements are also required for first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft, but there must also be at least one of eight aggravating factors:

  • Defendant possessed the vehicle for more than 24 hours.
  • Defendant altered or disguised the vehicle (or attempted to).
  • Defendant altered or removed the vehicle identification number (VIN) (or attempted to).
  • Defendant used the vehicle to commit a crime (except a traffic offense).
  • While exercising control over the vehicle, the defendant caused at least $500 in property damage, including damage to the vehicle.
  • Defendant injures someone while in control of the vehicle.
  • Defendant took the vehicle outside of Colorado for more than 12 hours.
  • Defendant displays the wrong license plates in or on the vehicle.

Steep penalties

First degree aggravated motor vehicle theft is a class 3, 4 or 5 felony with the class varying with the vehicle’s value. Second degree is either a class 5 or 6 felony or a class 1 misdemeanor.

The ramifications of a conviction for this crime may include:

  • Incarceration
  • Probation
  • Parole
  • Fines
  • Restitution
  • Costs
  • Fees
  • License revocation

In addition, a conviction leaves a criminal record that can limit personal and professional opportunities as well as harm the person’s reputation. A lawyer can fight for the rights of a person accused of vehicle theft in Colorado at any stage of the process.

The criminal defense attorneys at the Denver office of Shazam Kianpour & Associates, P.C., represent people under investigation for, arrested for or charged with vehicle theft and other crimes throughout the Denver metropolitan area.