Criminal Defense Law Center
West Michigan

Auto theft is a big problem in the Grand Rapids area and larger areas of Michigan like Detroit & Flint.

Michigan Auto Theft Laws

In the state of Michigan, Joyriding is an extremely serious charge that is vigorously prosecuted throughout the entire state. There are other crimes of a similar nature on the books that are called auto theft and carjacking.

The Statue that applies to the crime of auto theft is found in the Michigan Complied Laws Annotated 750.356 and 750.356a. A prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused took a person’s car, truck or other vehicle without permission and that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Numerous states across the country classifies these crimes on the value of the stolen property.  The higher the value of the property taken away, the longer possible incarceration a person faces from the court.  

What Is Joyriding?

Joyriding is the driving away of a person’s car without permission and is considered a less serious offense than auto theft. Michigan law has two district statues that deal with joyriding. One charge is a felony charge where a person takes possession of a vehicle and drives away. The other is a misdemeanor called unlawful use. This misdemeanor crime deals with a person using a vehicle beyond the permission given them by the owner. These laws are found in Michigan Complied Laws Annotated 750.413 and 750.414.

The major difference between these two crimes is the felony criminal charge mandates the defendant takes the car without permission. The misdemeanor joyriding charge is committed by an individual who is given permission to use the automobile for a certain circumstance but then uses the car outside of the permitted reasons by the owner.

An example of a misdemeanor joyriding charge would be an employer giving an employee permission to use their vehicle for conducting company business but then takes the vehicle to run a personal errand. Another example of this would be a child using their parents’ car for a trip that was not approved or a mechanic takes a car around the block for reasons not related to fixing the car.

An example of felony joyriding would be a defendant taking out his neighbors’ sports car a spin without permission. Another difference between felony and misdemeanor joyriding and theft is that a joyrider has the intention of returning the car. The thief has no such desire.

What Is Carjacking?

The charge if carjacking is an extremely serious felony charge that carries with it tough penalties that include prison time. In order to be convicted of carjacking, the defendant must use violence, force of a threat of violence or force while stealing a car. A person can face up to life in prison if convicted.

Failing To Return a Rental Car

The state of Michigan has a law that is designed specifically for failing to return a retail car. The maximum punishment possible for this crime depends on the value of the rental car. If the value of the automobile is over $20,000.00 a person can be facing ten years in prison. If the value of the car is worth $1,000 but less than $20,000, a person can face up to five years in prison. It the value of the rental is less than $1,000, a person is facing a misdemeanor charge with a possible year in jail. This law is found at MCL 750.362a.


There are two defenses attorney Shawn Haff and The Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan see brought up the most. The first defense is the defendant’s belief that they had permission or consent to use the vehicle. The other common defense offered is that the defendant had no intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. This allows the defendant to face the less serious charge of joyriding. If the defendant was initially given permission to use the car but used the automobile in a way that falls outside of the permitted reasons, the person can be charged with unlawful use.

In order to successfully defeat an unlawful use charge, the defendant must show that the car was used with permission on the occasion in question. If the evidence doesn’t support this contention, the defendant will be convicted of unlawful use of a vehicle. Defendants may also claim that they had no intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. If this is proven in court, a defendant will not be convicted of auto theft, but will be guilty of the crime of joyriding.


Auto theft is a ten-year felony charge. This means the maximum punishment a person can get under this charge is ten years in prison. Felony joyriding is a felony crime where the maximum punishment is five years in prison. If the person had accesses to a vehicle because of their employment the maximum penalty for this misdemeanor crime is 90 days in jail.

Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile in Michigan

If you are facing criminal charges for joyriding, car theft, carjacking or unlawfully driving away, you need to hire an aggressive five-star rated criminal defense attorney.  Shawn Haff or one of his other talented lawyers at The Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan highly rated lawyers who know how to get their clients amazing results.  We know the law and understand that many times young people are charged for joyriding. We know how to get our clients diversion programs like HYTA, that can keep a young person’s record clear of a criminal conviction. We also know how to help keep our clients out of jail or better yet a not guilty verdict at trial!

Michigan has a zero-tolerance alcohol law for person who are under the age of 21 and have a blood alcohol content of over .02. Anyone who is under the age of 21 and caught joyriding with a .02 or higher blood alcohol level will be charged with a DUI. Whenever someone is charged with an operating while intoxicated offense in Michigan, there are repercussions a convicted person will face such as license suspensions, fines, driving restrictions and higher insurance rates.

In 2014, The Michigan Supreme court held that joyriding charges are not a strict liability crime.  The court ruled that MCL 750.414 had a mens rea requirement that a person must have desired to take away a vehicle without the authority of the owner. Mens rea is a term of legal art that means an intention of knowledge of wrongdoing.  In order to convict someone of a strict liability crime, the state prosecutor just needs to show that someone committed a certain action. It does not matter what the defendant’s intent or mental state was when this action was committed. An example of a strict liability crime is statutory rape and possession crimes.

The case where the Supreme Court determined Mens rea is part of the statutory law is called Rambin v Allstate Insurance Company. In this case, the state’s top court examined a case of the Michigan Court of Appeals that dealt with the insurance companies’ denial of benefits to the plaintiff who was severely injured.

According to the syllabus of the Michigan Supreme Court,

“Lejuan Rambin brought an action in the Wayne Circuit Court against Allstate Insurance Company and Titan Insurance Company, seeking payment of personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq.

Rambin had been injured while riding a motorcycle owned by and registered to Scott Hertzog. At the time of the accident, Rambin did not own a motor vehicle. The car involved in the accident was uninsured, but Rambin averred that Hertzog owned a car that Allstate insured. Allstate denied Rambin’s claim for PIP benefits.

Rambin alternatively alleged that if Allstate was not the responsible insurer, he was entitled to PIP benefits from Titan, the insurer to which the Michigan Assigned Claims Facility had assigned his claim. Titan and Allstate moved for summary disposition, asserting that Rambin had taken the motorcycle unlawfully and was therefore barred from recovering PIP benefits by the unlawful-taking exclusion of MCL 500.3113(a).

Rambin also moved for summary disposition, asserting (1) that he had joined a motorcycle club even though he did not own a motorcycle, (2) that Hertzog’s motorcycle was subsequently stolen, (3) that Rambin needed a motorcycle to participate in a club ride, (4) that a person named Andre Smith had offered to loan him a motorcycle, and (5) that during the ride he collided with the uninsured automobile while operating that motorcycle.

The court, Susan D. Borman, J., granted both defendants summary disposition, and Rambin appealed. The Court of Appeals, DONOFRIO, P.J., and BOONSTRA, J. (RONAYNE KRAUSE, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), reversed and remanded, holding that Rambin had not taken the motorcycle unlawfully within the meaning of MCL 500.3113(a).

The Court of Appeals further stated that there was no dispute that Rambin had not taken the motorcycle in violation of the Michigan Penal Code, MCL 750.1 et seq., and that from his perspective, there had been no unlawful taking. 297 Mich App 679 (2012). Allstate applied for leave to appeal, and the Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other peremptory action. 493 Mich 973 (2013). 

In an opinion by Justice ZAHRA, joined by Chief Justice YOUNG and Justices MARKMAN, KELLY, MCCORMACK, and VIVIANO, the Supreme Court, held: 

MCL 750.414, which prohibits the unlawful taking of a vehicle, is not a strict-liability crime, but contains the mens rea element that the taker must have intended to take the vehicle without authority. 

  1. MCL 500.3113(a) provides that a person is not entitled to PIP benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident the person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle that he or she had taken unlawfully unless the person reasonably believed that he or she was entitled to take and use the vehicle. MCL 750.414, informally called a joyriding statute, provides that any person who takes or uses without authority a motor vehicle without the intent to steal the vehicle or is a party to the unauthorized taking or using is guilty of a misdemeanor. In Spectrum Health Hosps v Farm Bureau Mut Ins Co of Mich, 492 Mich 503 (2012), the Supreme Court held that any person who takes a vehicle contrary to a provision of the Michigan Penal Code (including MCL 750.414) has taken the vehicle unlawfully for purposes of MCL 500.3113(a). Unlike Spectrum Health, however, this case did not involve the taking of a vehicle against the express prohibition of the vehicle’s owner. Rather, Rambin presented evidence that in his opinion showed that the person who gave him permission to take the motorcycle was the rightful owner. 
  2. Allstate maintained that Rambin’s good faith was legally irrelevant because MCL 750.414 is a strict-liability crime and that absent express consent from the actual owner for the taking, Rambin was barred from recovering PIP benefits. Strict-liability offenses, however, are generally disfavored. Courts will infer an element of criminal intent when an offense is silent regarding mens rea unless the statute contains an express or implied indication that the Legislature intended the imposition of strict criminal liability. Further, the presumption in favor of a criminal intent or mens rea requirement applies to each element of a statutory crime. 
  3. MCL 750.414 expressly precludes the necessity of having an intent to steal. Accordingly, while the statute prohibits the unauthorized use or taking of a motor vehicle, it does not require showing that the perpetrator intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Although the Legislature expressly eliminated this common-law element of larceny crimes, however, it did not dispense with mens reaaltogether. MCL 750.414 is not a strict- liability offense. While an intent to steal is not an element of the offense, MCL 750.414 nonetheless requires an intent to take without authority or an intent to use without authority. 
  4. For a person to take personal property without the authority of the actual owner, there must be some evidence to support the proposition that the person from whom he or she received the property did not have the right to control or command the property. Rambin was entitled to present evidence to establish that because he did not knowingly lack authority to take the motorcycle in light of his belief that he had authority to do so, he did not run afoul of MCL 750.414 and, therefore, did not unlawfully take the motorcycle under MCL 500.3113(a). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was correct insofar as it held that Rambin would be entitled to PIP benefits if the evidence established that he did not know the motorcycle was stolen. 
  5. The Court of Appeals, however, incorrectly concluded that Rambin was entitled to a finding as a matter of law that he did not take the motorcycle unlawfully given the substantial circumstantial evidence to the contrary. The Court of Appeals improperly made findings regarding facts in this case that were still disputed.”


While this interpretation of the criminal statue by the state supreme court makes it harder for the prosecutor to prove their case, joyriding charges are quite common across West Michigan courts. If you are being investigated for unlawfully operating a vehicle, carjacking or joyriding, call Shawn now at 616-438-6719! The sooner you have an experienced and highly rated attorney on your side the better off you will be! We are open 24 hours a day seven days a week. We will begin immediately working on your case after you have retained Shawn or one of his other skilled attorneys.

In these types of cases, you need an attorney that will take a unique approach to your specific case. There is no cookie cutter strategy here! Shawn will examine all the facts of your case! He will look at past criminal history, the age of the offender, the background of the accuser, and all the specific circumstances of the case and interview witnesses.  Shawn will push for dismissal if the evidence on your side is strong. If the evidence against you is substantial, he will push for diversion programs, community service, alternative sentencing and no incarceration.

Shawn and his attorneys have a great track record of success! We will not rest until you get the best results possible. We have over twenty years of experience handling criminal cases.  Michigan prosecutors take motor vehicle crimes very seriously. You could be facing prison time if you don’t hire the right attorney to handle your case!  Call Shawn now at 616-438-6719! The call is free. Will you be?

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