Removing, detaching, or taking parts from a motor vehicle is a criminal offense in Colorado. This includes taking a license plate off of a vehicle. Theft of motor vehicle parts is a separate offense from general criminal theft and may result in higher penalties. Stealing a license plate is generally classified as a misdemeanor; however, depending on the value of theft involved, vehicle parts theft can be charged as a felony.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is theft of motor vehicle parts in Colorado?
- 2. Is license plate theft the same as motor vehicle parts theft?
- 3. How does the prosecutor prove I am guilty of motor vehicle parts theft?
- 4. What are the penalties for motor vehicle parts theft?
- 5. What are defenses to parts theft charges?
- 6. Related Offenses
Under Colorado law, removing, detaching, or taking any part from a motor vehicle with criminal intent is a criminal offense. This includes equipment, attachments, and accessories. Aiding, abetting, or assisting another in the commission of motor vehicle parts theft is also a criminal offense, with the same potential penalties as the person who committed the crime.
Motor vehicles are targets for parts theft. In many cases, the parts are more valuable to resell than the entire car because the individual parts are more difficult to track than a vehicle. Individual parts can be divided up among multiple individuals and sold to multiple buyers. In some cases, a valuable car part can be taken off a car in a matter of minutes and sold for cash the same day.
Some of the most commonly stolen car parts include:
- Catalytic Converters
- Stereo Equipment
- GPS Units
- Video Entertainment Systems
- Emblems and Logos
There is a separate provision for theft of a license plate under CRS 42-5-104.1 Theft of a license plate is a class 1 misdemeanor. Individuals may take a license plate off of a car to put on another car to obscure the ownership and status of another vehicle. This can be used to hide the real license plate of a car to be used for unlawful activity, or hide the status of a stolen vehicle with an unrelated license plate.
In order for the prosecutor to prove you are guilty of motor vehicle parts theft, they have to prove that you are guilty of the following elements:
- With criminal intent;
- Removes, detaches, or takes from a motor vehicle;
- Which is the property of another;
- Any part, equipment, attachment, accessory, or appurtenance contained therein or thereon; or
- Aids, abets, or assists in the commission or attempted commission of any such unlawful act.
If the prosecutor cannot prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, then they did not prove the defendant is guilty of theft of motor vehicle parts.
The penalties for motor vehicle parts theft depend on the part taken, the value of the items removed, and the defendant's criminal history. Theft of a license plate is a class 1 misdemeanor. Theft of parts with a value of less than $1,000 is also a class 1 misdemeanor.2 The maximum penalty for a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado is up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
If the theft is valued at $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, theft of motor vehicle parts is a class 5 felony.3 The penalty for a class 5 felony in Colorado is between 1 to 3 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. A class 5 felony also has a mandatory 2 year parole period. Felony convictions may also prevent you from owning a gun and make it harder to find a job in the future.
If the theft is valued at $20,000 or more, motor vehicle parts theft is a class 3 felony.4 The penalty for a class 3 felony in Colorado is from 4 to 12 years in prison, and a fine of up to $750,000.
There are additional penalties if the individual has been involved in multiple motor vehicle parts thefts. When a person commits motor vehicle parts theft 2 or more times within a 6 month period, then the value of the theft can be aggregated. If the aggregate value of parts stolen is $20,000 or more, they may face a class 4 felony charge.5 The maximum penalty for a class 4 felony in Colorado is 6 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
There are a number of possible defenses to charges of vehicle parts theft. Your Colorado criminal defense attorney will investigate your case and examine all the evidence to identify your best defenses. Possible defenses may include:
- Lack of criminal intent,
- Lack of knowledge that a theft occurred to sustain a conviction as an accessory,
- You didn't know the motor vehicle belonged to another person, or
- You reasonably believed the owner consented to the removal of the parts.
Tampering with a motor vehicle in Colorado may be related to the offenses of tampering with an ignition interlock device (IID) or altering a VIN number. Altering a VIN number and tampering with a motor vehicle may be charged with other vehicle theft offenses. However, tampering with an IID is usually related to avoiding a probation violation for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Altering or removing a vehicle identification number (VIN) to misrepresent the identity of a motor vehicle is a criminal offense in Colorado. Removing or altering a VIN is a class 5 felony offense in Colorado, punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Altering, damaging, or modifying any part of a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner is considered tampering. Tampering with a motor vehicle is a criminal offense in Colorado. Depending on the value of the damage involved or if tampering causes bodily injury, tampering can be charged as a felony, resulting in jail time and expensive fines.
Call us for help...
If you were accused of license plate theft or theft or motor vehicle parts, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our caring Colorado defense attorneys have many years of experience representing clients who have been charged with motor vehicle theft and parts theft. We are among the best Colorado criminal defense attorneys to call. Contact us today for a free consultation by phone or in-person or in our Denver law office.
- C.R.S. 42-5-104(4)
- C.R.S. 42-5-104(2)(a)
- C.R.S. 42-5-104(2)(b)
- C.R.S. 42-5-104(2(c)
- C.R.S. 42-5-103