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Is it a crime to “borrow” a vehicle without permission?

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2023 | Criminal Defense

There’s a good reason automobiles like cars and trucks need keys to start their engines. It’s to deter strangers and thieves from using and taking away your vehicle. Unless you explicitly trust someone to use your automobile, you shouldn’t let just anyone take your wheels for a spin.

But what if a relative has a car that you want to borrow? Couldn’t you just grab the keys, take the vehicle for a quick spin, and return it before your relative discovers their car is missing? They’re family, so they should be cool with you using the automobile, you might think.

Unless you asked for your relative’s permission, you’re committing a crime per North Dakota law. The state considers the unauthorized use of a vehicle a criminal offense that comes with fines and jail time. If your relative reports their missing car, and the police catch you during your joyride, you could be charged for the stunt.

State law on unauthorized vehicle use

According to the law, an individual is guilty of an offense if they take, operate, or exercise control over another person’s automobile without that owner’s consent. The law also applies to other vehicles, such as aircraft, motorcycles, motorboats, and trains.

The penalties

If you’re convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle by a court, you face a class A misdemeanor. The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of one year and a fine of up to $3,000. However, if the vehicle’s retrieval and restoration cost exceeds $1,000, the crime is enhanced to a class C felony. A class C felony conviction carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.

Your relative’s vehicle doesn’t have to be a luxury car for a court to charge you with a felony – if your joyride led to property damages, those costs could rack up.

In summary, taking another person’s car for a joyride without their permission is a crime. You may be able to claim in court that you reasonably believed that the vehicle’s owner would’ve permitted you had they known you took their vehicle. But for this defense to work, you might need the experience of a legal professional to review your case.