Miami Motor Vehicle Theft Attorney

Motor vehicle theft occurs for many reasons and can often be boiled down to a misunderstanding between an owner and someone who borrowed a car. Regardless, criminal charges for motor vehicle theft are a serious matter and anyone charged with stealing an automobile should consult with an automobile and motor vehicle theft attorney to discuss his or her rights. Valiente Carollo & McElligott PLLC is a criminal defense law firm with experience defending people accused of motor vehicle theft in the Miami area. The trial-tested attorneys at Valiente Carollo & McElligott PLLC have the skills necessary to protect your rights when faced with criminal charges. 

Motor Vehicle Theft Defined

Theft of a motor vehicle occurs when (1) a person deprives the rightful owner of the vehicle of use of the vehicle, either temporarily or permanently, or (2) a person takes the vehicle for his or her own personal use or for someone other than the owner’s use. A motor vehicle is defined as an automobile including cars, trucks, and SUVs, buses, semitrailers, motorcycles, scooters, ATVs, and snowmobiles. Construction equipment, farm equipment, airplanes, and boats are not considered motor vehicles under Florida statute.

Although stealing a motor vehicle can occur when a person drives the vehicle away, it can also occur when someone deprives the rightful owner of the vehicle by exercising control over it. This can happen when someone borrows a car and does not return it when expected to or parks a car within a locked fence, preventing the owner from accessing the vehicle.

Grand Theft Auto is a Felony

Motor vehicle theft is considered grand theft, which is a felony in Florida. The punishment for grand theft depends on the value of the vehicle stolen. Regardless, stealing a car almost always involves prison time. In addition to a prison sentence, anyone convicted of motor vehicle theft may also be required to pay restitution for any monetary damages related to the crime.

Third-degree Felony

Theft of a motor vehicle valued at less than $20,000 is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

Second-degree Felony

Theft of a motor vehicle valued at between $20,000 and $100,000 is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

First-degree Felony

Theft of a motor vehicle valued at more than $100,000 is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Motor Vehicle Theft Scenarios


Stealing a car to joyride, or generally just drive around, is a common form of motor vehicle theft, especially for those under the age of 18. Joyriding is considered theft even if the vehicle is returned to its owner because the owner is deprived of the vehicle, regardless of how brief the deprivation is. 

Failing to Return a Rental Car

Theft can occur even when a person has permission to use a motor vehicle, such as when the vehicle is rented. Failing to return a vehicle after the expiration of the rental term is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Rental agencies must include specific statutory notice in the rental agreement in order to pursue charges for a stolen rental vehicle. 

Borrowing a Vehicle

Similar to failing to return a rental car, failing to return a borrowed vehicle at an agreed-upon time can also constitute theft. Keeping a car longer than promised deprives the owner of his or her rights to the vehicle and is grand theft. Additionally, making false representations or using trickery to obtain property may also constitute separate crimes under Florida Statute 812.155.


Carjacking is stealing a motor vehicle by use of force, violence, assault, or intimidation. Carjacking is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.  If a firearm is used in the course of a carjacking, punishment may be up to life in prison. 

Running a Chop Shop

A chop shop is an operation that takes stolen vehicles, disassembles vehicle parts, and sells them for reuse on other vehicles in need of repair. Running a chop shop is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Sentencing Enhancements

Florida law provides for enhanced sentencing for repeat offenders, or people previously convicted of felonies for violent crimes such as carjacking, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, or armed burglary, among others. Repeat offenders receive harsher punishments. For instance, the minimum sentence for a first-degree motor vehicle theft felony conviction increases from 30 years in prison to life in prison if you have previously been convicted of a felony.

Underage Defendants

Florida operates a juvenile justice system for defendants under the age of 18 who are charged with a crime. When a juvenile commits a crime, it is called a delinquent act or violation of the law. A juvenile proceeding is similar to an adult proceeding; however, the punishments are different. A juvenile is not sent to prison. Punishment may include community service, probation, mandatory drug treatment, restitution, or commitment to a juvenile facility. Defendant’s 13 years of age or older may be sentenced to a juvenile correctional facility or a juvenile prison. Under certain circumstances, the juvenile court system may certify the juvenile should be tried as an adult in criminal court.

Contact a Miami Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are accused of motor vehicle theft, you need legal representation. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Valiente Carollo & McElligott PLLC can explain the criminal justice process to you and protect your rights from arrest to trial. Contact Valiente Carollo & McElligott PLLC today.