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Consider the following: On a construction site on a public road without any sort of barrier a very old dumper is sitting. It has absolutely no protection like requring an rfid chip from the key to be nearby to get started. The starter solenoid is freely accessible without any modification to the machine.

I am jump starting the motor by simply putting a screw driver to the solenoid contacts. The engine starts, I drive around for a couple of minutes. I then put some diesel back into the tank.

What crime would I be charged with? And if the answer is not "none" what is the difference to lets say someone installing a slide on public property and me using it?

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6 Answers 6

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You have committed aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree in violation of CRS 18-4-409(4):

A person commits aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree if he or she knowingly obtains or exercises control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception and if none of the aggravating factors in subsection (2) of this section are present.

If the value of the vehicle was less than $2000, then this is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by 6 to 18 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $500 to $5000.

Colorado's general theft statute (CRS 18-4-401) requires an additional element, that you intend to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the benefit of the property. So your slide example is not theft. However, they specifically excluded such a requirement from the motor vehicle theft statute.

If you drove it on a public road, then you may have committed a few traffic violations as well:

  • The vehicle's registration is presumably expired, so you violated CRS 42-3-121(1)(a).

  • If any of its required safety equipment is not working (all lights and signals, brakes, mirrors, horn, seat belts, etc, as well as a muffler) then you are in violation of CRS 42-4-202(1).

  • The vehicle is presumably not insured, so you violated 42-4-1409(2). You might think your own auto insurance policy covers you when you drive another vehicle, but if it's like my policy, this clause only applies when you drive it "with the express or implied permission of the owner, and within the scope of that permission".

  • If the dump truck has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 26,000 pounds, then it is a commercial motor vehicle under CRS 42-2-402(4)(a)(I), and under 42-2-404(1) you need a commercial driver's license to operate it, which you presumably don't have. (Note that GVWR is the maximum weight, including load, at which it is rated, whether or not it is currently loaded.)

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  • Fascinating, seems to (subjectively) highlight the USAs car culture. I specifically asked the question to compare it to my own countries law (which is not common law) where the owner would be charged with negligence and also liable for damages caused by the vehicle if they did not take reasonable action to prevent the average person from driving it :) Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 21:41
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    @YanickSalzmann: Oh sure, the vehicle's owner is guilty of various violations too, e.g. 42-4-1803 for abandoning a motor vehicle on public property, failing to register it, parking violations, etc. But that doesn't make you any less guilty of your crimes. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 21:57
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    @YanickSalzmann: Are you saying that in your country, taking away the ignition keys does not suffice as a "reasonable action" to prevent it from being driven? Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 21:58
  • Good question, I dont think we have supreme court decision on that for situations where a 1" piece of metal is enough to start the vehicle. Or even like in the situation I've encountered a vehicle that can simply be started by pushing a button on the dashboard. Would be interesting to know. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:00
  • By the way, your last list made me think of a simple violation, because constrution vehicles fall under the category F in my country which I do not have a permit for. So even starting it on a public road would be a traffic violation. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:05
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Assuming the owner did not consent, the acts you describe would make out the offence of theft (Criminal Code, s. 322) or taking motor vehicle without consent (joyriding) (Criminal Code, s. 335), depending on the intent of the accused.

Theft

Theft has several forms, but the scenario you describe would be caught by the phrasing, "Every one commits theft who fraudulently1 and without colour of right... converts to his use... anything... with intent to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it." The theft occurs when the taker moves the thing or causes it to move or be moved, or begins to cause it to become movable.

Taking motor vehicle ("joyriding")

The taking motor vehicle without consent offence (colloquially, "joyriding") is even broader, capturing conduct that was not necessarily done with the intent to deprive, because sometimes this aspect of theft is difficult to prove. For joyriding, it is enough that the accused had the intent to drive the vehicle, knowing (or being wilfully blind) that it was taken without the consent of the owner.

... every one who, without the consent of the owner, takes a motor vehicle or vessel with intent to drive, use, navigate or operate it or cause it to be driven, used, navigated or operated, or is an occupant of a motor vehicle or vessel knowing that it was taken without the consent of the owner, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

The distinction

To clarify the distinction, the Supreme Court of Canada has said (Lafrance v. R. [1975] 2 S.C.R. 201):

the distinction between the two offences lies in the difference that characterizes the intent of the taker which, in the case of theft, is to convert, permanently or temporarily, the property of another in a motor vehicle—or in any other thing—to the use of the taker and which, in the case of the offence under s. 281 [now s. 335], is merely to drive a motor vehicle or cause it to be driven.

Using a slide isn't theft or joyriding

Using a slide would not be captured by the above offences.


1. "Fraudulently" in this context means with knowledge that the thing taken is the property of another person or being wilfully blind to that fact.

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Larceny, Stealing motor vehicle, vessel, or trailer, and/or Taking a conveyance without the consent of the owner

The last is a specific subset of larceny, which removes the element of intent to permanently deprive the owner of it. The 2nd offence is an aggravated form of the first offence and carries twice the maximum penalty - 10 years instead of 5.

Assuming the facts stated are known to the prosecutor, they would probably opt for the last offence as it's the easiest to prove. The elements are you:

  • don't have the consent of the owner (check),
  • took it (check),
  • drove it (check).
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As you omitted a jurisdiction some generic possibilities :

What crime would I be charged with?

  • Theft - regardless of whether the vehicle is secured or not. E.g. If I don't lock my car that doesn't translate into giving other people permission to take it.

  • Possibly driving an untaxed vehicle

  • Likely driving uninsured because I can't imagine an insurance policy that could cover you as they typically have all sorts of clauses that void this kind of thing. You typically need the owner's explicit consent to drive a vehicle as a minimum and someone had better have insurance covering someone other that the owner driving.

  • Possibly driving unlicensed.

  • Possibly driving an unsafe vehicle (do you know it's safe to drive when you drive it away ?).

  • Abandoning a vehicle. You parked it last.

  • Possibly failing to report a crime (e.g. the vehicle could have been stolen in the first place).

  • Maybe illegal parking.

  • Potentially interfering with evidence, as the vehicle could have been the location of a crime or a getaway vehicle. If it was previously stolen you've likely messed up evidence of the criminals (like finger prints).

  • Potentially going equipped to steal (screwdriver and whatever else you used to hot wire or gain entry).

There's practically no end to the list of potential offenses your generic scenario might be breaking. All you need to do is annoy a police officer or a prosecutor and they'll get very busy looking for things you've done wrong.

You also, incidentally, opened yourself up to claims by the true owner that you took their vehicle without permission (civil claim) or damaged it (civil claim) or, again, any range of claims. Insurance companies could sue you.

what is the difference to lets say someone installing a slide on public property and me using it?

Firstly the person installing had better have had permission to do that or they're potentially in trouble. A slide is problematic as it's a device that attracts children to use and, yes, there are typically a slew of regulations about what constitutes a safe slide for public use.

As for you using the slide, I know of at least two public parks in my area where the slides are posted for use by children only. However breaking these rules would be breaking by-laws normally and not unlikely to become a felony issue unless you did something really daft like use it while under a court order not to.

The difference between this and the dumper is that :

  • You did not take possession of the slide, you did take possession of the dumper. Using the slide is not taking possession.
  • There would be no licenses or tax required to use the slide, whereas the dumper will have multiple requirements.
  • You do not need to have valid insurance to use a slide, but a vehicle does require valid insurance, usually tied into to ownership, permission and license.
  • You did not use any tool to activate the device - a slide, whereas you used tools to start the vehicle. And again there's that "going equipped to steal" thing which does not apply to the slide because you did not take it and used no tools to access it.
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and

Since you just use the vehicle for a while, this is not theft in Germany, or Washington as a representative of US law. In Germany, this is unlawful taking of a motor-vehicle or bicycle:

(1) Whosoever uses a motor-vehicle or a bicycle against the will of the person authorised to use it shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine unless the act is subject to a more severe penalty under other provisions.

(2) The attempt shall be punishable

However if you permanently take it away, that is theft:

Whosoever takes chattels belonging to another away from another with the intention of unlawfully appropriating them for himself or a third person shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine.

In Washington

A person is guilty of taking a motor vehicle without permission in the second degree if he or she, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to possession, intentionally takes or drives away any automobile or motor vehicle, whether propelled by steam, electricity, or internal combustion engine, that is the property of another, or he or she voluntarily rides in or upon the automobile or motor vehicle with knowledge of the fact that the automobile or motor vehicle was unlawfully taken

which is a class C felony, but if you actually steal it, it is a more serious class B felony. (There is also "joyriding with apparent intent to sell it, which for some reason is not subsumed under standard vehicle theft). In Washington (and many US states), vehicle theft is distinct from ordinary theft. In the case of non-vehicles, there are three degrees of theft distinguished in terms of value of the object, the most severe penalty being class B felony for theft of stuff worth over $5,000. It is not a crime to use my shovel without my permission, unless you are in Harrison OH.

The definition of theft is

(a) To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services; or (b) By color or aid of deception to obtain control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services; or (c) To appropriate lost or misdelivered property or services of another, or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services.

Your described use show no intent to deprive the owner of their property, not even fuel – it is just use.

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Theft

Right now, there is a 25 year old truck parked on the public road near my house. No RFID, no push button keyfob, no smartphone nearby needed. Just the regular key.

You hotwire it, and go for a joyride.

That is straight up theft.

Oh wait...that is MY truck. A 1997 Ford F-150.

Why would you think it is OK for you to just take it?

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  • If you had a wheelbarrow on your sidwalk and I pushed it a couple of meters is that also theft? Where does the law draw the limit? I would assume to drive that truck I'd have to at least somehow pry open the doors. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 20:46
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    "Why would you think it is OK for you to just take it?" Is it still private property if its clearly been abandoned?
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 20:46
  • "abandoned" - It hasn't moved in 48 hours, when I drove it home from work. If that falls under your definition of "abandoned", you're working with a weird dictionary.
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 20:53
  • The question isn't about whether the act is morally or societally acceptable, it's about law and what crime is or isn't committed.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 1:25

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