The Michigan Penal Code has two statutes relating to driving away in someone else’s car without permission:
(1) UNLAWFULLY DRIVING AWAY AN AUTOMOBILE (“UDAA”)
- To be found guilty of unlawfully driving away an automobile (often shortened to “UDAA”) contrary to MCL 750.413, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- (a) That the vehicle belonged to someone else.
- (b) That the individual took possession of the vehicle and drove or took it away.
- (c) That these acts were done without the owner’s permission.
- (d) That the individual intended to take possession of the vehicle and drive it away, whether or not the individual intended to keep it.
- The penalty for being found guilty of UDAA is as follows:
- (a) Felony conviction punishable up to 5 years in prison.
- (b) If this is a first offense, the defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended for one year. If this is a second or subsequent conviction, the defendant’s driver’s license will be revoked.
- (c) Six points added to the defendant’s driving record.
(2) UNLAWFULLY DRIVING AWAY AN AUTOMOBILE WITHOUT INTENT TO STEAL (“JOYRIDING”)
- The crime of unlawfully driving away an automobile without intent to steal is frequently called “joyriding” in Michigan. To be found guilty of “joyriding” contrary to MCL 750.414, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- (a) That the vehicle belonged to someone else
- (b) That the individual used the vehicle.
- (c) That the individual did this without authority.
- (d) That the individual intended to use the vehicle knowing that he or she did not have authority to do so.
- The penalty for being found guilty of joyriding is as follows:
- (a) High court misdemeanor conviction up to 2 years in prison or a fine up to $1,500.00. If this is a first offense, the court may reduce to the penalty to a misdemeanor conviction up to 3 months in jail or a fine up to $500.00.
- (b) If this is a first offense, the defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended for 90 days. If this is a second or subsequent conviction within 7 years, the defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended for one year.
- (c) Two points added to the defendant’s driving record.
Unlawful Driving Away of an Automobile is technically not a “theft” offense in that the prosecutor does not have to prove that an individual intends to steal the vehicle. However, it is a specific intent crime where the prosecutor has to prove the individual intended to “possess” the vehicle by taking it away. Joyriding is also a specific intent crime in that the prosecutor has to prove the individual intended to use the vehicle knowing that he or she did not have permission. However, nothing prevents the prosecutor from simply authorizing a larceny charge if he believes that a theft occurred. For example, if the vehicle was valued over $20,000.00 or more, the prosecutor can authorize a larceny felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail or a fine either up to $15,000.00 or up to three times the value of the property stolen, or both.
A very common defense to UDAA charges is mistake. A defendant’s honest mistake or a misunderstanding about what he was supposed to do may negate the required specific intent. Another defense commonly asserted is that there was explicit or implied permission to use the vehicle. For example, the defendant may have borrowed or used the car before and assumed he or she had permission for a subsequent use despite not explicitly asking for it.
The prosecutor has the burden of proof and must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to take the vehicle to obtain a conviction. It doesn’t mean that the prosecutor or the court must be a mind-reader. Intent can be inferred from the defendant’s actions such as getting into the vehicle, starting the engine and driving it away. Very frequently, the prosecutor will offer a plea bargain to reduce a charge of unauthorized driving away of an automobile to joyriding to avoid trial.
Before considering any plea bargain, it is wise to have the assistance of a skilled lawyer for a careful examination of the evidence against you and the defenses available at law. Your decision should be informed and based on the proposition that the plea bargain is better than the risk of taking your case to trial. If you are charged with unlawful driving away of an automobile or joyriding, do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak.