In CRS 18-4-409, Colorado law defines aggravated motor vehicle (auto) theft as when someone “knowingly obtains or exercises control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception.” The punishment can range from 6 months in jail to 12 years in state prison.
There are two degrees of aggravated auto theft. First-degree is more serious. Second-degree is less serious.
First-degree aggravated auto theft occurs if the defendant both steals the car and either:
- Keeps the vehicle for more than a day or takes it out of Colorado for more than a half a day;
- Use the vehicle to commit a crime, injures someone with it, or causes more than $500 worth of damage with it; or
- Attempts to alter or disguise the vehicle, VIN, or license plates
Defendants convicted of violating CRS 18-4-409 will lose their Colorado’s driver’s license for at least one year.
First-degree aggravated automobile theft is always a felony. Depending on the value of the vehicle and defendant’s criminal history, penalties include:
- 1 – 12 years in Colorado State Prison, and/or
- $1,000 – $750,000 in fines
Second-degree aggravated automobile theft is almost always a felony. Depending on the value of the vehicle, penalties include:
- 1 – 3 years in prison, and/or
- $1,000 – $100,000 in fines
Second-degree aggravated automobile theft is a misdemeanor only when:
- The vehicle is worth less than $1,000, and
- The defendant has no more than one prior auto-theft conviction
The misdemeanor penalties are:
- 6 – 18 months in jail, and/or
- $500 – $5,000in fines
There are many potential defenses to aggravated motor vehicle theft criminal charges. Three examples include:
- The defendant owned the car;
- The defendant believed he/she had permission to take the car; or
- The police committed misconduct
Below our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss:
- 1. How does Colorado law define aggravated motor vehicle theft?
- 2. What are the penalties under CRS 18-4-409?
- 3. What are common defenses to auto theft?
- 4. Can the criminal record be sealed?
- 5. Related Colorado offenses
Aggravated auto theft in Colorado occurs when a person knowingly steals another person’s or company’s vehicle. It does not matter whether the alleged thief uses threats or deception to obtain it or whether he or she simply takes it without permission.1
As discussed below, aggravated theft of a motor vehicle can be first- or second-degree depending on the severity of the case. 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.
Additionally, if a car is stolen in one jurisdiction but recovered in another, the defendant may be prosecuted in:
- The jurisdiction where the theft occurred;
- Any jurisdiction through which the automobile was operated or transported; or
- The jurisdiction in which the automobile was recovered
First-degree aggravated auto theft has two elements that must be met.
- The defendant knowingly obtains or exercises control over another’s motor vehicle without authorization or by threat or deception; AND
- The defendant either:
- Retains possession or control of the vehicle for more than 24 hours; or
- Attempts to or does alter or disguise the appearance of the motor vehicle; or
- Attempts to or does remove or alter the vehicle identification number (VIN); or
- Uses the motor vehicle in the commission of a crime other than a traffic offense; or
- Causes $500 or more worth of property damage to the vehicle or other property; or
- Causes bodily injury to another person while he or she is in control of the vehicle; or
- Removes the vehicle from the state of Colorado for more than 12 hours; or
- Unlawfully attaches or displays license plates other than those officially issued for the vehicle
Examples of first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft include:
- Stealing a car and selling it or its parts to a chop shop;
- Borrowing a car without permission for more than 24 hours;
- Borrowing a car without permission for a joyride and getting into a wreck;
- Driving one’s 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
Second-degree aggravated auto theft is knowingly obtaining or exercising control over another’s motor vehicle without authorization or by threat or deception. And none of the factors in the above subsection apply.2
Examples of second-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft include:
- Being a valet or parking attendant and driving the car around town without permission;
- Borrowing someone else’s car without permission for a joyride and returning it the next day;
- Using one’s parents’ car without permission to go on a date; or
- Temporarily refusing to give back a car that has been temporarily entrusted to his or her care
The punishments for aggravated motor vehicle theft depend on the value of the stolen vehicle and the defendant’s past criminal record (if any).
Aggravated Vehicle Theft (CRS 18-4-409)
Less than $20,000
$20,000 to less than $100,000
$100,000 or higher
Third auto theft conviction (any value)
Class 3 felony
$20,000 or higher
Class 5 felony:
$1,000 to less than $20,000
Less than $1,000
|*Any aggravated auto theft conviction results in automatic revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license for at least one year. Juveniles adjudged delinquent of auto theft also lose their license.4|
Seven defenses that may get Colorado aggravated auto theft charges completely dropped include:
- The vehicle belonged to the defendant;
- Someone else took the vehicle;
- The defendant had permission to drive the vehicle (shown by testimony, emails, etc.);
- The defendant did not know he/she lacked the owner’s permission to borrow the car;
- The car owner falsely accused the defendant;
- The police entrapped the defendant, who was not predisposed to car theft. The defendant never would have stolen the car but for the police’s pressure; or
- The police discovered the car through an illegal search and seizure
Five defenses that may get a first-degree auto theft charge lessened to a second-degree charge are:
- The defendant did not keep the vehicle for more than 24 hours and did not take it out of state for more than 12 hours;
- The defendant did not injure anyone with the vehicle;
- The defendant did not alter the vehicle in any way;
- The defendant did not use the vehicle to commit a crime; or
- Any damage costs less than $500 to repair5
Yes, unless the conviction was for a class 3 felony (first-degree aggravated car theft of $100,000 or higher). Otherwise, a CRS 18-4-409 conviction is sealable three years after the case ends. Note that any cases that get dismissed (meaning there is no conviction) can be sealed right away.6
5.1. Theft of Motor Vehicle Parts
Like it sounds, theft of motor vehicle parts (CRS 42-5-104) is removing, detaching, or taking any part from an automobile with criminal intent. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the items stolen.
5.2. Felony Grand Theft
Felony grand theft (CRS 18-4-401(2)) is intentionally taking another person’s property, which is valued at $2,000 or higher. The extent of the fines and prison time depend on the value of the items stolen.
5.3. Theft by Receiving Stolen Property
Receiving stolen property (CRS 18-4-404) is knowingly obtaining control over items that have been stolen. It is punished the same as theft: It can be a petty offense, a misdemeanor, or a felony depending on the value of the stolen items that the defendant received.
Arrested in Colorado? Contact our Denver criminal defense lawyers. Our criminal law firm will fight to get the charges reduced or dismissed. We create attorney-client relationships throughout the state, including Denver, Greeley, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Lakewood, Jefferson County, Boulder, Adams County, Arapahoe County, and more.
Simply fill out the confidential form on this page. Or call us. Consultations with our criminal defense attorneys are free.
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
In California? See our article on grand theft auto law (PC 487d1).
In Nevada? See our article on grand larceny of a motor vehicle (NRS 205.228).
- CRS 18-4-409; People v. Andrews, 632 P.2d 1012 (1981); People v. Stellabotte, 421 P.3d 1164 (Court of Appeals, 2016); see, e.g., Jessica Snouwaert, Man wanted for stealing cars arrested mid-theft in Monument, police say, Colorado Springs Gazette (April 21, 2020).
- CRS 18-4-409.
- See, e.g., People v. Marquez, 107 P.3d 993 (Colo. App. 2004).
- CRS 42-2-125.
- See also People v. Harper, 205 P.3d 452 (Colo. App. 2008).
- Colorado Revised Statutes 24-72.