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Is Stealing a Car a Felony in Minnesota?

According to Minnesota state law, stealing a car is always treated as a felony. This sets auto theft apart from many other theft offenses, whose severity is based on the value of the object allegedly stolen. With a stealing a car charge, the state will bring felony charges for cases involving lemons and priceless antiques alike. So, is stealing a car a felony in Minneapolis and Minnesota? The answer is Yes.

In Minnesota, car theft charges are a bit different than in most other states, and this distinction makes car theft in Minnesota an even tougher charge to defend. If you’re facing a charge related to stealing a car, working closely with an experienced Minnesota criminal defense attorney is in your best interest. Contact the attorneys of Gerald Miller as soon as possible to review your defense options.

Car Theft Charges in Minnesota

In Minnesota, car theft comes under the broader umbrella of theft, which refers to taking something from someone else with the intention of depriving that person of the stolen good permanently. For theft to reach the level of a felony, the stolen item or items must be worth at least $1,000. When it comes to the theft of a car, however, things are a bit different, and all of the following apply:

  • The theft of a car in Minnesota is always considered grand theft, which is a felony (regardless of whether the car is worth at least $1,000 or not).
  • If someone takes a car without consent in Minnesota, it is theft (regardless of whether the accused thief intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle or not).

The State of Minnesota is particularly harsh when it comes to auto theft. Most other states require the element of intention (intending to permanently deprive the vehicle’s owner of that vehicle) before taking a car reaches the level of grand theft auto. Without this intention, such an action – in most other states – amounts to a charge of joyriding, which is often categorized as a misdemeanor.

Minnesota Does Not Recognize Joyriding

Some states have adopted separate statutes related to the theft of an automobile by a minor that has access to the vehicle. This offense is typically known as joyriding. While the offense is not taken as seriously as grand theft auto, most jurisdictions assign significant maximum penalties to the offense. If you’re asking is stealing a car a felony even if it is joyriding, the answer is Yes.

Because Minnesota does not require the element of intention in its grand theft auto charge, even an instance of what most of us think of as joyriding amounts to grand theft auto in Minnesota. However, if a kid does take their parent’s car out for a spin around the neighborhood without permission, Minnesota is likely to go easy regarding any legal charges. While this is often the outcome in these cases, there is no guarantee that the judge or prosecutors will be lenient. Our firm could work tirelessly to ensure you have the best chance of avoiding a conviction under these circumstances.

Proving the Elements of Grand Theft Auto

To prove that you committed grand theft auto, the state’s prosecution must be able to demonstrate that each of the charge’s elements apply in your case. These elements include:

  • You took a car.
    • The car belonged to someone else.
    • The owner of the car did not give you prior consent to take it.

The issue of consent is an important one here. Even if someone gave you permission to drive their vehicle in the past, that does not necessarily mean that you had consent to drive their car in this instance.

The Associated Penalties

A grand theft auto conviction can cost you up to $10,000 in fines, up to 5 years behind bars, as well as the costs associated with any damage to the stolen vehicle while it was in your possession. A grand theft auto conviction can also seriously limit your housing prospects, educational prospects, employment prospects, social standing, and more. The consequences of having a felony on your record are far too great not to work closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney in defense of your rights.

Defending Yourself Against Grand Theft Auto Charges

As mentioned, the prosecution will need to show that each element of the grand theft auto charge applies to your situation, and the burden of proof is on them. If you can demonstrate that any one of the elements is missing, you will have the beginnings of a robust defense. While your defense will be unique to your exact situation, there are several common defenses that may be applicable, including:

  • Insufficient Evidence –Because the prosecution must prove each element of grand theft auto, demonstrating that there isn’t enough evidence to support one or more of these elements can be a very effective approach.
  • Consent –If the owner of the vehicle consented to your use of it and then reneged, making this case can be a good defense strategy. If they allowed you to drive their car in the past, it can help bolster your claim of consent.
  • Mistaken Identity – Sometimes the police make mistakes. This is especially common among criminal offenses that law enforcement officers do not directly witness. If a car was stolen and not recovered in the possession of another person, it is easy to see how the police could wrongfully accuse someone of the act. Making the case that someone else stole the vehicle could be a viable defense strategy.
  • Lack of Criminal Intent – Grand theft auto is a crime of intent. If you had a good faith belief that you were entitled to take the vehicle, it could serve as a defense to a grant theft auto charge. For example, if you genuinely believed you had the consent of the other driver you might be able to avoid a conviction.

There are numerous possible defense strategies for a felony car theft case. The right strategy for you will depend on the facts of your case. If you were convinced you had permission to use the vehicle, a mistaken identity claim might not work out, for example.

Determining the ideal defense strategy for your case requires skill and experience. One of the greatest risks of taking on your defense alone is lacking the insight to identify the strongest defense in your case.

The attorneys at Gerald Miller have a long track record of success when it comes to developing winning defense strategies. Our team is prepared to evaluate the charges filed against you and investigate every aspect of your arrest. Let us put our experience to work for you and develop a strong defense theory for your auto theft case.

Auto Theft vs. Carjacking in Minneapolis

It is worth noting that the manner in which you are alleged to have stolen a motor vehicle will impact the charges you face as well as the maximum penalties you could receive. If you’re asking is stealing a car a felony in Minneapolis and Minnesota, the short answer is Yes.

Many states identify carjacking as its own criminal offense separate from auto theft. While that is not the case under Minnesota law, the offense of carjacking does fall under a different statute that standard theft offenses.

In Minnesota, prosecutors rely on the standard robbery statute to address carjacking cases as opposed to the theft statute. Carjacking occurs when an individual takes a motor vehicle using either force or the threat of force. This is different from auto theft, which usually occurs when the rightful owner of the vehicle is not present.

A robbery conviction—including for a carjacking—could lead to as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000. That could go up to 20 years in prison if there are aggravating factors present. Some aggravating factors could include being armed with a deadly weapon or causing bodily harm during the commission of the crime.

Call an Experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Auto theft is one of the most severely-punished theft crimes under the laws of Minnesota. If you are facing these charges, you could be at risk of being sentenced to time behind bars as well as thousands of dollars in fines.

The good news is that you have the right to fight back against these charges. Auto theft allegations are defensible, and with the right attorney could avoid the consequences of a conviction entirely.

If you’ve been charged with grand theft auto, you’re facing a felony charge and it’s serious. The formidable criminal defense attorneys at Gerald Miller in Minneapolis are committed to aggressively advocating on behalf of your legal rights and for your favorable case resolution. Still wondering is stealing a car is a felony? To learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact or call us at 612.440.3212 today.

Originally published on August 13, 2020 and updated on October 18, 2021.

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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