Dallas Auto Theft: Stolen Car Cases at All-Time High
Auto theft in Dallas is reaching unprecedented levels, with a staggering surge in reported incidents this year. As of September 1, 2023, more than 12,000 vehicles have been reported stolen in Dallas – 35 percent more than the 8,943 reported during the same period last year, according to the Dallas Crime Analytics dashboard and the Dallas Express.
With the surge in vehicle thefts, law enforcement is trying to crack down on stolen cars in North Texas. These cases are generally filed as Theft charges or as Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle Charges (UUMV). That means that prosecutors will try and make an example out of anyone they catch involved in a Dallas auto theft.
If you or someone you know has been accused of Dallas auto theft, it is important to speak to an experienced and knowledgeable Dallas auto theft lawyer right away. At Varghese Summersett, we have successfully defended dozens of clients accused of auto theft in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Our legal team will evaluate your case, build a strong defense, and fight to get the best possible outcome for you.
In this article, we explain auto theft in Texas, the punishment, possible defenses, and the importance of retaining a highly experienced criminal defense attorney if you’ve been accused of this offense in North Texas.
Texas Auto Theft Law: An Overview
Texas does not have a specific statute solely dedicated to “auto theft.” Instead, auto theft falls under the broader umbrella of theft offenses outlined in Chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code, specifically Section 31.03.
Under Texas law, a person commits theft – including Dallas auto theft – if he or she unlawfully appropriates property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. Appropriation of property is unlawful if:
1) it is without the owner’s effective consent;
2) the property is stolen and the actor appropriates the property knowing it was stolen by another; or
3) property in the custody of any law enforcement agency was explicitly represented by any law enforcement agent to the actor as being stolen and the actor appropriates the property believing it was stolen by another.
So, that was a lot of legalese. Let’s break it down into simple terms:
In Texas, if you take something that doesn’t belong to you with the intention of keeping it away from the owner, you’re committing theft. This includes stealing cars. Here are the ways you can be accused of stealing:
- You take something without the owner’s permission.
- You take something that was already stolen by someone else, knowing that it was stolen.
- You take something that the police have (maybe as evidence or found property) and the police told you it was stolen, but you took it anyway thinking it was stolen by someone else.
In short, if you take something that isn’t yours and intend to keep it, you’re committing theft in Texas.
Punishment for Dallas Auto Theft
If you have been accused of Dallas auto theft, the potential punishment will depend on the value of the vehicle. For example, if the car was worth $25,000, you would be facing a state jail felony punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail facility. If the car was worth $100,000 you could be looking at up to life in prison. Here’s a breakdown of the classifications and penalty ranges based on the value of a vehicle:
|Stolen Amount||Offense Classification||Penalty|
|Less than $100||Class C misdemeanor||Fine up to $500|
|$100 to $749||Class B misdemeanor||Up to 180 days in jail & fine|
|$750 to $2,499||Class A misdemeanor||Up to 1 year in jail & fine|
|$2,500 to $29,999||State jail felony||180 days to 2 years in state jail|
|$30,000 to $149,999||Third-degree felony||2 to 10 years in prison & fine|
|$150,000 to $299,999||Second-degree felony||2 to 20 years in prison & fine|
|$300,000 or more||First-degree felony||5 to 99 years in prison & fine|
Difference Between Auto Theft and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (UUMV)
In the legal world, it’s easy to get confused about specific offenses. When talking about stealing a vehicle, clients often get confused between auto theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
While auto theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle seem similar, they are legally distinct. Auto theft involves the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle, whereas UUMV does not require the intent to permanently deprive — only the unauthorized operation of the vehicle.
In other words, to be convicted of Dallas auto theft, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant stole the vehicle and never intended to give it back. To be convicted of UUMV, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant took the vehicle but planned to return it.
We often see UUMV cases when a parent calls the police after their child took their vehicle. UUMV is defined under Section 31.07 of the Texas Penal Code and is also commonly referred to as joyriding.
Another big difference between vehicle theft and UUMV is the punishment range. UUMV is a state jail felony with a punishment range of six months to 2 years in a state jail facility. As mentioned above, the punishment for auto theft depends on the value of the car but can be a very serious felony
Defenses to Dallas Auto Theft
Defending against an auto theft charge in Dallas, or anywhere in North Texas, requires a strategic approach tailored to the specifics of the case. Here are several possible defenses to auto theft:
Lack of Intent
One of the key elements the prosecution must prove is that the defendant had the intent to deprive the owner of their vehicle. If it can be demonstrated that there was no intent to steal, this could form a valid defense. For example, if someone believed they had permission to use the vehicle, it could negate the intent to commit theft.
Sometimes, defendants may be wrongly identified as the perpetrator. Providing an alibi or proving that the defendant wasn’t present at the scene of the alleged theft can be effective.
If the defendant can prove that the owner of the vehicle gave them permission to use it, then the foundation of the theft charge is undermined. This can be a solid defense if there’s evidence or testimony confirming the owner’s consent.
If the defendant can establish that they intended to return the car within a short period or did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of it, this could mitigate the charge to Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (UUMV) rather than theft.
The prosecution must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot provide enough evidence to meet this burden, the charges may be reduced or dismissed or the defendant could be acquitted at trial.
Duress or Coercion
If a defendant can prove they were under duress or coerced into committing the theft – for example, they were threatened or pressured by another party – it can serve as a defense.
Recovery of Vehicle
While not a direct defense to the act of theft, if the vehicle was returned voluntarily before any criminal complaint was made, it might have a positive influence on the case’s outcome or on plea negotiations.
Invalid Stop or Search
If the police did not follow proper procedures during the stop, search, or arrest, any evidence obtained could be suppressed, making the prosecution’s case weaker.
It’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney when facing Dallas auto theft charges. A skilled attorney can evaluate the specifics of the case, identify potential defenses, and provide guidance on the best course of action. If you or someone you know is facing Dallas auto theft charges, reach out to Varghese Summersett today.
Speak to a Dallas Auto Theft Lawyer Today
At Varghese Summersett, we understand the nuances and challenges of Texas auto theft laws. Our team employs a proactive approach to:
- Meticulously analyze the evidence against you
- Strategically challenge the prosecution’s case
- Fiercely advocate for your rights
- Assertively negotiate for reduced charges or dismissals
- Aggressively fight for you in trial if the case can’t be resolved
In this era of heightened auto theft incidents in Dallas, Varghese Summersett offers unparalleled expertise. Our team is made up of board-certified criminal attorneys and former prosecutors who have a proven track record of exceptional results. Call 214-903-4000 today for a free consultation with an experienced Dallas auto theft lawyer.