Tex. Pen. Code § 31.07 makes it illegal for anyone to intentionally and knowingly operate the boat, aircraft, or vehicle without the consent of the owner. Essentially, this is the code section that prosecutors often use to file charges of auto theft. However, if a vehicle is worth more than $30,000, then it could be charged as theft, since the value of the vehicle would necessitate third degree felony charges, which can have harsher potential penalties than state jail felony charges.
Unlike theft offenses, unauthorized use of a vehicle under this section does not require proof that the accused intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle of its benefits or use. As a result, simply “borrowing” a relative’s car or so-called joyriding by taking the neighbor’s vehicle both can result in felony charges. The level of proof required for an auto theft charge is far lower than that of theft in general.
Violation of this code section is a state jail felony. Conviction on a state jail felony may result in a jail term ranging from 180 days to two years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. A felony conviction also likely eliminates certain civil rights, including the right to possess firearms, the right to sit on a jury, and the right to vote.
There may be defenses available in unauthorized use of a vehicle cases, depending on the circumstances. For instance, you may have mistakenly thought that you had the owner’s consent to use the vehicle, due to a miscommunication between you and the owner. If charged as theft, on the other hand, you may be able to argue that you did not intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle. Every case is different, so the defenses that are applicable in your case may vary.
When you are charged with any type of criminal offense in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Taking steps to get you released from jail and fight for your rights at the outset of your case is typically easier than waiting until your case has progressed. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.