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Salt Lake Criminal Defense Lawyer - Utah Motor Vehicle Theft

Criminal charges for theft of a motor vehicle in Utah can result in felony conviction and substantial jail or prison time. As a Utah criminal defense lawyer based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard has extensive experience defending clients against serious felony and misdemeanor charges. If you are facing criminal charges for motor vehicle theft in Utah (referred to as "grand theft auto" in some other states), contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

Theft of a Motor Vehicle in Utah - Elements

Under Utah law, the level of a criminal charge for theft can range from mid-level misdemeanor to serious felony, and in most cases is determined by the value of the item(s) taken. But in the case of a car, truck, van, or other motor vehicle, a theft charge automatically starts at the second degree felony level - regardless of the value of the vehicle involved. Thus, in order to prove a second degree felony motor vehicle theft charge, a prosecutor must prove all of the the elements of a standard theft charge (unauthorized control over the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner thereof), and also prove that the property taken was an operable motor vehicle.

In some cases, police may find a person in possession of a vehicle that is believed to be stolen, but the police may not be able to find evidence to prove that the person possessing the vehicle actually stole the vehicle. In such cases, prosecutors may file a charge of theft by receiving or a more specific charge of receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle. For either charge, the prosecutor must be able to present evidence suggesting that the person knew or at least had reason to believe that the vehicle was stolen. Merely possessing a stolen vehicle, without proof that the person had the required state of mind or intent, does not constitute a criminal offense in Utah.

Related offenses under the Utah criminal code include theft of a rental vehicle, unauthorized control over a motor vehicle (joyriding) 41-1a-1314, false evidence of title and registration 41-1a-1315, altered registration or license plates 41-3-703, and driving without registration. Any of these criminal charges can carry serious consequences. Hiring an experienced criminal lawyer can give you the best chance of success in your case.

Consequences of Conviction for Motor Vehicle Theft in Utah

Motor vehicle theft charges in Utah typically begin at the second degree felony level, punishable by a maximum sentence of 1-15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 plus a 90% surcharge. Utah criminal law also provides an enhancement for group criminal activity (often called a "gang enhancement") which can increase the level of the offense to a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison if the offense is committed "in concert with two or more persons."

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Salt Lake City, Utah

Stephen Howard is an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer who represents clients charged with motor vehicle theft and other crimes throughout Utah.  From his office in Salt Lake City, he has successfully handled thousands of serious felony charges.  His track record includes not guilty verdicts or outright dismissals on cases including theft, burglary, aggravated robbery, and more.

As a criminal defense attorney based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard offers legal services to clients throughout Utah.  If you have been charged with vehicle theft or any other crime in Utah, contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.


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  • Criminal Defense Trial AttorneyNot Guilty - Client was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly pointing handgun at and threatening another driver during a road rage incident. Defense investigation and analysis, combined with effective cross-examination at trial indicated the alleged victim was the initial aggressor and suported client's self-defense claim. Jury acquitted client at trial.
  • Criminal Appeals Defense AttorneyDismissed on Appeal - DUI case was dismissed after a successful appeal where the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's denial of the defense motion to suppress. Without the suppressed evidence, the prosecutor acknowledged that they did not have sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and the case was dismissed.
  • Utah Expungement Attorney Salt Lake Davis Expunged - Client with prior conviction for violent felony was ineligible for expungement through the courts. A successful 2-step reduction restored expungement eligibility and ultimately led to the court's decision to grant the requested expungement.
  • Utah Burglary Defense Attorney Not Guilty - Client was charged with second-degree felony residential burglary and facing potential prison time. Investigation by the defense revealed multiple witnesses, missed by police and prosecutors, who supported client's claim of innocence. At trial, the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict on all charges.
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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