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Grand Theft Auto Defense Attorney in Pensacola, Florida 

Auto theft is on the rise in the United States. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more than one million vehicles were stolen in 2022, a record not matched in nearly 25 years. Florida landed fourth on the list of states with the most auto thefts, behind California, Texas, and Washington. 

Although the Grand Theft Auto video game series has been around since the 1990s, there is nothing fun about being charged with this crime. Regardless of whether you stole a vehicle or not, you need to put an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney on your team. For Tom McGuire, fighting criminal charges is never fun and games. He recognizes that futures and freedoms are on the line for the clients he represents, and that’s serious business.

If you are facing grand theft auto charges in Pensacola, Florida, or in Escambia County or Santa Rosa County, including the communities of Fort Walton Beach, Crestview, or Milton, contact Panhandle Defense Firm as soon as possible to set up a consultation. 

What Is Grand Theft Auto in Florida?

Grand theft auto is the stealing of a motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans, motorcycles, pickups, trucks, semi-tractors, and trailers are all considered vehicles under Florida’s grand theft auto laws. 

Some examples of grand theft auto include intentionally not returning a rental car at the end of the lease period, stealing a vehicle to sell or give to someone else, or reducing someone else’s vehicle to parts to use or sell.  

The value of the vehicle makes grand theft auto a felony in the third degree in Florida, and a conviction comes with serious consequences.  

Accused of Grand Theft Auto?

How Does Grand Theft Auto Differ from Other Auto Thefts?

Not all motor vehicle theft is the same. Joyriding, for example, does not constitute grand theft auto because the vehicle is stolen, used, and left behind where it will be found by law enforcement and returned to its rightful owner.  

There are, in fact, four required elements that classify a motor vehicle theft as grand theft auto: 

  1. Theft of the vehicle must be made knowingly. For example, if someone gave you keys to a car they said belonged to them and asked you to store it in your garage, you lacked the knowledge regarding ownership of the vehicle.  

  1. The vehicle is not legally owned by you. If your name is on the title but your estranged spouse has possession of the vehicle, you cannot be charged with grand theft even if you take the vehicle without the spouse’s permission or knowledge.  

  1. The owner of the vehicle did not provide permission for you to take the vehicle.  

  1. A fourth critical element is intent. You must intend to deprive the owner permanently. That is unlike joyriding where you illegally possess the car temporarily.  

What Are the Possible Conviction Penalties for Grand Theft Auto? 

Grand theft auto is a felony in Florida and may be charged as a third-, second-, or first-degree felony, depending on the circumstances. The possible consequences for grand theft auto convictions are severe.

Grand theft of any vehicle, regardless of its fair market value, is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

If the value of the vehicle is between $20,000 and $100,000 or contains cargo valued at less than $50,000, the charge will be a second-degree felony. Punishment for a conviction includes up to 15 years in prison or probation and up to $10,000 in fines.

If the value of the vehicle is more than $100,000 or the cargo value is more than $50,000, you will face a first-degree felony charge, accompanied by up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.  

Are There Good Defenses Against Grand Theft Auto Charges?

Your criminal defense attorney should explore all possible defenses for grand theft auto if you are charged with the crime. However, there are certainly some common defenses often employed, beginning with mistaken identity. You could be wrongly identified as the perpetrator of this crime. The other common defenses stem from those four requirements for grand theft auto charges listed above.  

For example, you could be the rightful owner of the vehicle, even if someone else had possession of it at the time. Or perhaps you believed you were the owner of the vehicle or that the rightful owner of the vehicle gave you the keys and asked you to move it. 

Perhaps you took the vehicle but had no intention of not allowing the owner to have it back. This would include stealing it for a joyride or taking someone to a destination in an emergency situation. 

Poor communication may be used as a defense. Maybe you believed you had the rightful owner’s permission to take the vehicle and either you misunderstood, or the rightful owner’s intent was to have you charged with grand theft auto.  

A skilled lawyer will recognize that every situation is unique, and will craft a strategy accordingly.

Grand Theft Auto Defense Attorney in Pensacola, Florida

Grand theft auto is a major criminal charge with severe consequences for a conviction. This is no time to try to represent yourself if you think you are innocent or if you think the evidence against you is faulty. This is a conviction that can ruin your life and take away your freedom—so contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Tom McGuire to represent you. Panhandle Defense Firm in Pensacola is ready to help you move forward.