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My question is when does a vehicle in repossession status become Grand Theft Auto?

I'm an IT professional living in Oregon where I work for a gov't agency.

Around January 2019, my co-worker, "Joe" had a mid-life crisis. He got divorced, quit his job and flew overseas to live with a woman he met on-line.

About 2 weeks ago, Joe returned. He's trying to find an IT job and eventually bring his fiancee over. My supervisor had lunch with him. Before Joe left, he told us he had bought 2 used vehicles. My supervisor said that Joe told him that he stopped paying on them when he left the country. He just called the loan company and asked if he could start paying on them. They said he could but it was too late - the repo paperwork had been issued.

Joe is living on a friend's rural property outside of town. He has the vehicles stashed there. It doesn't sound like he's going to turn them in. I'm concerned that if he gets charged with two felonies, he'll have trouble getting a job flipping burgers, much less an IT job.

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    This question asks what the law is, althoguh it adds unneeded specifics. It should not be closed as asking nfor specific legal advice. – David Siegel Sep 22 at 14:52
  • Moved main question to front of body - sorry for confusion. – PabloCruise Sep 25 at 2:25
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    Has Joe been (properly) served with the repossession order? – Martin Bonner supports Monica Sep 25 at 7:22
  • Does that mean being served with paperwork like when someone serves you when you are being sued? I don't know. I do know that he did talk to the loan company and they said that repo paperwork had been issued for the vehicles. – PabloCruise Sep 26 at 0:45
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A car loan is technically called a "secured debt" and some states have a law called "defrauding a secured creditor", or something similar, that can cause mere failure to pay a debt or to voluntarily deliver the collateral to the creditor to become a type of theft or another crime in some circumstances. Usually, even then, there must be evidence of an intent to defraud the creditor and not merely an intent to fail to perform a promise to a creditor.

For example, in Colorado there is a criminal offense entitled "Concealment or removal of secured property" at Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-5-504 which states:

If a person who has given a security interest in personal property, as security interest is defined in section 4-1-201(b)(35), C.R.S ., or other person with actual knowledge of the security interest, during the existence of the security interest, knowingly conceals or removes the encumbered property from the state of Colorado without written consent of the secured creditor, the person commits a class 5 felony where the value of the property concealed or removed is one thousand dollars or more.  Where the value of the property concealed or removed is less than one thousand dollars, the person commits a class 1 misdemeanor.

But, the default position at common law and under the Uniform Commercial Code, that merely passively not paying a debt or passively not turning over collateral for debt to a creditor is not a crime.

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In the usual case, the creditor has a secured interest noted on the title and can proceed to peaceful repossession of the vehicle, and the repossession is fully lawful. If the interest is not noted on the title, the creditor is supposed to first go through a court process before getting a court order. Also, the creditor cannot take the vehicle at gunpoint, nor can they break into a building to get the vehicle (ORS 83.820, 83.670 ). There is no requirement for giving advance notice of repossession. Repossessing a vehicle is not criminal, but could be a cause for civil action (lawsuit) if the repossession was carried out unlawfully.

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