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Understanding recent changes in Colorado’s vehicle theft laws

On Behalf of | Jan 29, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Obviously, stealing a vehicle is a serious crime. Many people assume that stealing a brand new Porsche would have much more serious consequences than taking a beat-up 1990 Toyota Corolla. After all, theft crime penalties are typically based on the value of the item(s) stolen.

With a new law that took effect last summer, that’s no longer the case here in Colorado. The law made a number of changes to how different types of motor vehicle theft (MVT) are classified. It also eliminated the vehicle’s value as a factor.

First- and second-degree MVT

These are both charged as felonies. According to the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), second-degree MVT applies when someone “obtains, receives, or exercises control over a stolen motor vehicle and knew or should have reasonably known such. This includes retaining the vehicle for a period of greater than 24 hours, damage of the vehicle, the use of the vehicle in a crime other than a traffic offense,… concealment of the vehicle through physical alteration, and the use of license plates on the vehicle that are not belonging to that vehicle.” A person can be charged with first-degree MVT if they’ve had two previous MVT convictions. 

Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle

This is a lesser offense. This charge can be used if a vehicle is taken but returned to the owner within 24 hours and wasn’t used to commit another crime. It’s a misdemeanor unless it’s not a first offense. 

Why the changes?

A primary goals for lawmakers and law enforcement officials were to lessen the significant number of auto thefts throughout the state – particularly when a vehicle is used in other criminal activity — and to recognize the harm done to those whose vehicles are stolen, regardless of their value. 

The head of the CSP noted, “For far too many years, auto theft was perceived as a victimless crime when the perceived value of a vehicle was low. In reality, it had a tremendous impact on the livelihoods of the vehicle owners and other community members when these vehicles were used to commit additional crimes.”

It’s all too easy sometimes to get caught in a stolen vehicle or to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever the situation, if you’re facing any kind of vehicle theft charge, it’s crucial to get legal guidance to protect your rights.