In most places in Minnesota, people need cars to get around. In a large, moderately populated state, cars are a requirement to get to most schools, jobs, and leisure activities.
Stealing someone’s car is not just taking an object valued at a certain amount – it’s stealing someone’s source of employment.
In one case it was more than just a source of employment — it was their employer’s vehicle. Bloomington police recently shut down I-494 for a half-hour during rush hour just to find a stolen car. The car was recovered after the suspect abandoned it and fled on foot.
Why such a massive response effort for a single car? Well, it was a government vehicle. The equivalent of a cop car, really.
History says police don’t look kindly on those who commit crimes against their own. Usually, an offender can count on being prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So what does MN law say about stealing cars — let’s take a look…
Grand Theft Auto: Minnesota Car Theft Laws
In general, stealing any vehicle is always a felony in Minnesota regardless of its value. Moreover, Minnesota doesn’t split its felonies up based on severity; instead, each crime receives its own specific penalties.
That means stealing a brand new Lexus is considered on par with stealing an aging Corolla — both are considered felonies.
Grand theft auto in this state is punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. There are aggravating factors, though. If the car stolen is valued at more than $5000, the victim may choose to press charges based on the value of the car. Theft of an item worth more than $5000 is punishable by 20 years in prison and fines up to $20,000.
Another aggravating factor is the potential for bodily harm involved in the theft. If the act “creates a reasonably foreseeable risk of bodily harm to another,” the maximum sentence is increased by 50 percent. That brings the base charge up to 15 years in prison, and an elevated sentence of up to 30 years.
More Than One Way to Be Charged for Stealing a Minnesota Car
When you think about stealing a car, here’s what it probably looks like: Someone breaks into a parked car, hotwires it, and drives it away to be resold. That’s not the only type of theft, though. There are several other types of nontraditional auto theft that you might face.
Joyriding in MN is Still Grand Theft
Joyriding is considered its own, lesser crime in many states. That’s not the case in Minnesota. Taking a car without the owner’s consent is always considered grand theft auto, even if the car is returned. So, “joyriding” is not considered a defense against Minnesota auto theft charges.
Perpetual (and Gross) Tardiness Is Not a Defense
Another car theft crime is failing to return a rental car on time. While many rental companies understand that things come up, returning your rental car more than an hour or two late can result in charges being pressed. Read your rental contract carefully so you know what the company considers criminally late.
Carjacking is Considered a Robbery Crime
Carjacking is a step beyond simple theft. If a car is taken from its owner through threats or use of force, it falls under a more serious crime: robbery. Simple robbery, which doesn’t involve a weapon, can lead to up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Aggravated robbery, which involves the use or threat of using a weapon, can result in 20 years in prison and $35,000 in fines.
Stealing Private and Government Autos in MN: What’s the Difference?
There is nothing in the Minnesota legal code specifying that stealing a police car is worse than stealing a civilian vehicle. A vehicle is considered to fall under the same statutes for auto theft regardless of the owner. There are, however, several considerations to be made.
Government Cars Aren’t Just a Base Model
Most government vehicles are worth significantly more than a civilian vehicle. There is a lot of specialized equipment in the average cop car, for instance, and even the cars themselves are often $40,000 or more new. This immediately places government vehicles in the higher bracket for potential penalties and fines.
Chances Are There Are Guns in That Police Car
There are also firearms and potentially other weapons in the vehicle. Stealing a weapon is its own charge, which can be prosecuted separately. Penalties for stealing a firearm, for example, can be up to $35,000 in fines and 20 years in prison.
Messing with Government Property May Earn You a Maximum Penalty
Finally, the police department is likely to take the theft of a government vehicle personally. While there are no extra penalties for this theft, it is more likely that the police department will press for maximum penalties for the crime.
Stealing a car is always a felony-level crime. Stealing a government vehicle is considered legally the same as a civilian car, but in practice, it is a much riskier crime.
Police departments take these thefts personally, and incredibly seriously. If you have been accused of stealing a police or other government car, you should begin working with an experienced Minnesota criminal attorney immediately.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).