What’s the Difference Between Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding in Texas?

man driving car

Many people confuse grand theft auto with joyriding in Texas. However, there is a great difference between being charged with grand theft auto, carjacking, and joyriding. It is essential to know the difference between these three types of criminal offenses in Texas to understand how to defend yourself against the charges.

The biggest difference between grand theft auto and joyriding is the intent to return the car to its owner. While an individual who steals someone else’s car has no intention to return the vehicle to its owner, a joyrider plans to eventually drive the car back to its owner.

If you have been charged with joyriding, grand theft auto, or any other theft-related crime in Texas, speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. Talk to a Fort Hood criminal lawyer to identify the best defense strategy in your particular situation.

What is Grand Theft Auto in Texas?

Grand theft auto means taking another person’s vehicle with the intent to deprive the owner of their car. Interestingly, Texas Penal Code does not have a specific statute addressing grand auto theft. Stealing an automobile is prosecuted under the state’s general theft law codified in Texas Penal Code § 31.03.

Penalties for grand theft auto – or theft of any other item, for that matter – depends on the value of the stolen vehicle. Depending on the value of the car, penalties range from 180 days to 10 years in jail, in addition to a fine of up to $10,000. Punishment for grand theft auto in Texas can be enhanced if the offender used a firearm when stealing the vehicle or had prior felony convictions on his/her record.

What is Carjacking in Texas?

Carjacking is not the same as grand auto theft because the carjacker takes a vehicle from the owner using force or threatening to use force. Unlike grand theft auto, which is prosecuted under Texas’s theft statutes, carjacking is prosecuted under the robbery statute codified in Texas Penal Code § 29.02.

Carjacking – or any other type of robbery in Texas – is considered a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. However, when aggravating factors exist, the charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to 99 years in prison in addition to a fine of up to $10,000.

When a defendant is facing robbery charges for carjacking, aggravating factors include:

  • Using or showing a deadly weapon

  • Causing serious bodily injury to the owner or driver of the car

  • Causing bodily injury to a disabled person or someone over the age of 65

  • Threatening to cause injury or death to a disabled or someone who is over the age of 65

Carjacking is a serious criminal offense in Texas, which is why you should contact a skilled criminal defense attorney when facing criminal charges for taking someone else’s automobile by using or threatening to use force.

What is Joyriding in Texas?

Joyriding is the least serious crime among these three criminal offenses involving the taking of another person’s motor vehicle. Joyriding means driving someone else’s vehicle without the owner’s consent.

As long as the person who took someone else’s car for a ride has an intent to return the vehicle to its owner, the person is charged with joyriding rather than grand auto theft. That’s the biggest difference between car theft and joyriding.

Texas law does not have a specific statute for the offense of “joyriding,” which is why individuals who borrow other people’s cars without asking can face an unauthorized use of a motor vehicle charge codified in Texas Penal Code § 31.07.

If convicted, the joyrider can face from 180 days to 2 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

What Are the Best Defenses Against Joyriding in Texas?

While penalties for joyriding are not as severe as for grand theft auto or carjacking, it is still best to avoid a conviction if you can. For this reason, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to identify the best defense strategy in your particular case.

Some of the most effective defenses against joyriding in Texas include:

  • Misunderstanding. You could argue that the taking of someone else’s vehicle was a misunderstanding between you and the car owner. You may successfully invoke this defense if you had permission to use the same vehicle before. Since Texas law requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant had intent to commit a crime, you may avoid a conviction if you can prove that you reasonably believed that you had permission to drive the car.

  • Lack of harm. Depending on the circumstances of joyriding, you may be able to argue that the alleged joyride caused no harm and was insignificant. This might be a valid defense if you took someone’s car to drive a short distance. While you are essentially admitting that you took someone else’s vehicle for a quick ride, showing that your actions caused no harm could result in a minimum fine without a jail sentence.

  • Emergency. If you can prove that you had to use someone else’s car due to an emergency, the court may not convict you of unauthorized use of a vehicle. For example, if you had to use the car to drive your pregnant wife to a hospital and then returned the vehicle to its owner, you might avoid criminal penalties.

  • Duress. In some joyriding cases, duress may be an applicable defense. If you were forced to drive someone else’s car against your will, you could invoke the duress defense. For example, if someone held a gun to your head and told you to drive a vehicle, you may not face a conviction because you were acting under the threat of harm.

It is vital to speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer to discuss the facts of your alleged joyriding offense and identify the best defense strategy.

Contact a Fort Hood Criminal Lawyer

Get a free consultation with our criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to discuss how you can avoid a conviction for grand theft auto, carjacking, or joyriding. Our lawyers are prepared to listen to your case and help you advocate for your rights. Call (254) 220-4225 for a free case review.

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