Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft
(Colorado 18-4-409 C.R.S.)

man in black hoodie breaking into driver's side of car

Stealing a car in Colorado

You commit aggravated motor vehicle theft in Colorado when you knowingly obtain or exercise control over someone else's car, truck, motorcycle or other vehicle either:

  • Without authorization, or
  • By threat or deception.

Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft is almost always a felony.

It is first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft if you:

  • Keep the vehicle for more than 24 hours, 
  • Take the vehicle out of the state for more than 12 hours,
  • Use the vehicle in the commission of a crime,
  • Injure someone with the vehicle, 
  • Cause more than $500 of damage to the vehicle or other property, or 
  • Attempt to alter or disguise the vehicle in any way -- including by modifying the vehicle identification number (VIN) or displaying false license plates.

If you commit auto theft without doing any of these listed things, it is second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft.

Penalties for Colorado motor vehicle theft

Aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree can be a Colorado class 3, class 4 or class 5 felony depending on:

  • The value of the motor vehicle, and
  • Whether you have two or more prior convictions for motor vehicle theft.

Assuming you have fewer than two prior convictions, the maximum punishment for aggravated motor vehicle theft is based on the value of the vehicle as follows:

  • Less than $20,000: up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 .
  • $20,000-$99,999: up to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
  • $100,000 or more: up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.

Second degree motor vehicle theft is also a felony unless the vehicle is worth less than $1,000 -- in which case it is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for second degree vehicle theft based on the value of the vehicle is:

  • Less than $1,000: up to 18 months in jail and a fine of $5,000.
  • $1,000 or more but less than $20,000: up to 1 ½ years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. 
  • $20,000 or more: up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Additionally, your Colorado driver's license will be revoked if you are found guilty of, or plead no contest to, aggravated motor vehicle theft in any degree.

Defenses to Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft

While there are many defenses to charges of aggravated motor vehicle theft in Colorado, some of the most common complete and partial defenses are:

  • The vehicle was yours,
  • Someone else took the car,
  • You had permission to drive the vehicle,
  • You thought you had permission to drive the car,
  • You didn't keep the car long enough to be first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft,
  • You didn't alter the vehicle in any way, 
  • The damage you caused was less than $500, or
  • There was police misconduct during the investigation of your case.

To help you better understand the nuances of Colorado's aggravated motor vehicle theft law, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss, below:

car thief entering passenger side of vehicle containing scared young female driver

1. What is aggravated motor vehicle theft?

Section 18-4-409 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) provides:

A person commits aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree if he or she knowingly obtains or exercises control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception…

To be guilty of motor vehicle theft you must be aware that you the vehicle belongs to someone else and that your control of the vehicle is without the other person's authorization.1

In some states the crime of aggravated motor vehicle theft is known as “grand theft auto.” But in Colorado it is always referred to as aggravated motor vehicle theft.

1.1. First degree aggravated motor vehicle theft

You commit aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree when you knowingly obtain or exercise control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception AND:

  • You retain possession or control of the vehicle for more than 24 hours; or
  • You attempt to or do alter or disguise the appearance of the motor vehicle; or
  • You attempt to or do remove or alter the vehicle identification number (VIN); or
  • You use the motor vehicle in the commission of a crime other than a traffic offense; or
  • You cause $500 or more property damage to the vehicle or other property; or
  • You cause bodily injury to another person while you are in control of the vehicle; or
  • You remove the vehicle from the state of Colorado for more than 12 hours; or
  • You unlawfully attach or display license plates other than those officially issued for the vehicle.

Examples of first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft include (but are not limited to):

  • Stealing a car and selling it or its parts to a “chop shop”;
  • Borrowing a car without the owner's permission for more than 24 hours;
  • “Borrowing” a car for a “joyride” and getting into a wreck;
  • Driving your parents' car without permission and seriously injuring a pedestrian;
  • Stealing a car and using it as a getaway car after a crime; 
  • Putting another car's license plates on the vehicle, or
  • Committing a “carjacking” and taking the vehicle to another state or country to sell it.
man in black hoodie pointing handgun at a car's driver

1.2. Second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft

You commit aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree under 18-4-409 C.R.S. when you knowingly obtain or exercise control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception AND none of the factors set forth above is present.

Examples of second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft include (but are not limited to):

  • Being a valet or parking attendant and driving the car around town without permission;
  • “Borrowing” someone else's car for a joyride and returning it the next day; 
  • Using your parents' car without permission to go on a date; or
  • Temporarily refusing to give back a car that has been temporarily entrusted to your care (such as in a parking lot or otherwise).

2. Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft penalties

2.1. First degree vehicle theft penalties

The consequences of aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree depend on the value of the vehicle and your past criminal record (if any).

First degree aggravated motor vehicle theft is:

  • A Colorado class 5 felony if the value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is less than $20,000;
  • A Colorado class 4 felony if the value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is $20,000 or more but less than $100,000; or
  • A Colorado class 3 felony if:
    • The value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is more than $100,000, OR 
    • You have twice previously been convicted or adjudicated of charges separately brought and tried either in Colorado or elsewhere of an offense involving theft of a motor vehicle under the laws of Colorado, any other state, the United States, or any territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

As a class 5 felony, punishment for aggravated motor vehicle theft can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Consequences of aggravated motor vehicle theft as a class 4 felony can include:

  • 2-6 years in prison (with 3 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

And finally, as a class 3 felony, the penalties for aggravated motor vehicle theft can include:

  • 4-12 years in prison (with 5-years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

2.2. Second degree vehicle theft penalties

The punishment for aggravated motor vehicle theft in the second degree depends on the value of the vehicle. Aggravated motor vehicle theft is:

  • A Colorado class 5 felony if the value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is $20,000 or more;
  • A Colorado class 6 felony if the value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is $1,000 or more but less than $20,000; or
  • A Colorado class 1 misdemeanor if the value of the motor vehicle or motor vehicles involved is less than one thousand dollars.

As a class 5 felony, the consequences of second degree motor vehicle theft can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

If conviction is for aggravated motor vehicle theft as a class 6 felony, punishment can include:

  • 1–1 ½ years in prison ( with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

And, finally, the penalties for misdemeanor aggravated motor vehicle theft can include:

  • 6-18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

2.3. Driver's license revocation

You face automatic revocation of your Colorado driver's license if:

  • You are convicted of – or you plead guilty or nolo contendere to -- Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft in either degree, or
  • You are adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for a violation of 18-4-409 C.R.S.

Additionally, if you steal a car in one jurisdiction and it is recovered in another, you can be prosecuted in:

  • The jurisdiction where the theft occurred,
  • Any jurisdiction through which the motor vehicle was operated or transported, or 
  • The jurisdiction in which the motor vehicle was recovered.

3. Defenses to Colorado vehicle theft charges

There are ways to defend against Colorado aggravated motor vehicle theft charges – even when you are caught driving someone else's vehicle.

In order to convict you under Colorado 18-4-409 C.R.S. the prosecution must prove each and every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. So they must prove that you were the one who took the vehicle and that you knew you didn't have the owner's permission. This can be difficult to do.

Specific defenses to Colorado car theft charges can include (but are not limited to) establishing that:

  • The vehicle was yours;
  • Someone else took the vehicle;
  • You had permission to drive the vehicle (shown by testimony, emails, etc.);
  • You didn't know you didn't have the owner's permission to borrow the car;
  • You didn't keep the car for more than 24 hours (defense to first degree charges);
  • You didn't alter the vehicle in any way, 
  • The damage costs less than $500 to repair (partial defense); or
  • There was police misconduct during the investigation of your case – in which case any evidence recovered as a result of the misconduct should be thrown out.

Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been charged with Colorado aggravated vehicle theft or another vehicle-related crime, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our caring lawyers will return your inquiry promptly to listen to your side of the story and begin planning the best defense to your Colorado aggravated vehicle theft charge.

To reach one of our experienced Colorado criminal lawyers, simply fill out the confidential form on this page. Or call us at our Denver home office, located at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112


Legal references:

  1. People v. Andrews, 1981, 632 P.2d 1012.

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