In Virginia, it is illegal to take or use another person's vehicle without their consent. Many of these cases involve simple joyriding or borrowing a friend or family member's vehicle without their consent. As a result it is a a felony in Virginia even if you are simply borrowing the vehicle if you do not have the consent of the owner. Unauthorized Use is different from Grand Larceny ("grand theft auto") because Unauthorized Use is only a temporary taking.
In Fairfax County, prosecutors take Unauthorized Use charges seriously because there is a "victim" whose vehicle was used without their permission. However, the charges are negotiable and a criminal defense attorney can help get the charge reduced or dismissed depending on the circumstances. We handle these cases frequently and know what must be proven by the Commonwealth to sustain a conviction. Don't hesitate to reach out to us because, as with all felony charges, hiring a competent lawyer is the most important step in properly addressing your case.
Unauthorized Use: §18.2-102
Virginia Code §18.2-102 defines Unauthorized Use as taking, driving, otherwise using an animal, vehicle, aircraft, boat or vessel that is not your own and is without the consent of the owner and to temporarily deprive them of it. For purposes of this discussion, we'll focus on the Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle as it pertains to Fairfax County because it is the most common charge.
Most charges involving a vehicle are defined under the motor vehicles section of the Virginia Code. However, Unauthorized Use is considered a larceny and is a form of stealing. Therefore, the charge is articulated under the crimes section of the Virginia Code. Unauthorized Use can be a Class 1 Misdemeanor (if the value of the vehicle is less than $1000) or a Class 6 Felony (if the value of the vehicle is $200 or more). Of course, because almost all motor vehicles have a value of $1000 or more, almost all Unauthorized Use charges involving a motor vehicle is a Class 6 felony. Consequently, the punishment for a conviction of Unauthorized use is anywhere from 0 days to 5 years in prison with a fine of up to $2500. It should be noted that such substantial jail time is unlikely but some jail time is certainly possible.
Examples of Unauthorized Use
When you have the consent of the owner of the vehicle to drive it, it is legal (of course, provide you have a valid driver's license). However, when the consent is for a certain period of time and you exceed that time frame, it becomes a trespassory taking and, therefore, Unauthorized Use. In Fairfax County, these types of cases are relatively rare but it does happen where the agreement to borrow the car for an hour or two turns into a full day. Since the owner may not know where the vehicle is or needs the vehicle themselves, the police are called leading to the arrest and charge. Depending on the circumstances, in this instance, a charge may be dropped since there was an initial agreement to the vehicle's use. In other cases, an agreement can be reached where the charge is reduced to a misdemeanor so our client avoids a felony conviction.
We have also had cases where a family member borrowed the vehicle without the family member's knowledge. The owner calls the police thinking the car was stolen and our client is later stopped at a gas station or restaurant parking lot. Our client assumed it would be fine since the owner is their father, mother, brother, or sister. However, the police have limited discretion to simply tell the taker to return the vehicle and call it a day. The good news is that, by the time the court date arrives, many of these charges are simply dropped since the "victim" has learned it was not a stranger that took their vehicle and the prosecutor is not as driven for a conviction in these cases. In general, if the charge isn't a dropped, a reduction to a misdemeanor is the next appropriate resolution.
Contact Us For a Free Consultation!
Because nearly all Unauthorized Use charges are a felony in Fairfax County, we recommend you obtain a lawyer for your case. We do not charge a fee for talking to you about your case and would happy to review your case. We are in court nearly everyday and know the judicial process inside and out.