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Auto Theft

Iowa takes auto theft seriously. While lesser acts of theft may face misdemeanor charges, theft of a motor vehicle is a felony offense.

In the following article, we’ll go over the degrees of theft and the penalties for someone convicted of automotive theft.

Des Moines Auto Theft Lawyer

Theft and property crime accusations may be based on weak evidence, exaggerated claims and misunderstandings. A Des Moines theft and property crime lawyer from McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. can show the jury the reasonable doubt that exists in the accusations against you.

Our criminal defense attorneys have more than four decades of legal experience and have represented hundreds against criminal accusations. We’ll put that extensive experience to work for you, fighting your property crime or theft charges. Call us today at (515) 279-9700 for a free consultation.

Our attorneys represent the accused throughout Polk County and Dallas County, including in West Des Moines, Ankeny, Urbandale and Johnson, and all over Iowa.

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Iowa Theft Laws

The state of Iowa operates under a degree system, separating theft into five degrees depending on the value of the stolen item. The following schedule provides the thresholds necessary level for each degree and is defined in Iowa Code 714.2.

First Degree
  • $10,000; or
  • The theft was looting
Class “C” Felony
Second Degree
  • +$1,500; or
  • The theft was of a car
Class “D” Felony
Three Degree
  • $750 or more; or
  • Repeat offense
Aggravated Misdemeanor
Fourth Degree
  • $300 or more
Serious Misdemeanor
Fifth Degree
  • Up to $300 in value
Simple Misdemeanor

If the theft is of a motor vehicle, then the charge will automatically be elevated to a felony offense, regardless of the cost of the vehicle. This explicitly does not include motorized bicycles, per Iowa Code 714.2 (2). Other vehicles, such as motorcycles and recreational sport vehicles are included, however.

Permanent Deprivation

State law dictates that a thief must take the item with the intention to not return it. If a person takes a car without permission while intending to return it, then they are liable for taking without authorization, and not necessarily theft.

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Common Defenses for Auto Theft

In order to convict you of auto theft, the court needs to prove two things:

  • That you intended to deprive the person wholly of the car without returning it
  • Proof that you did in fact take the car

Therefore, your defense will either seek to deny the allegation that you took the car, or look to prove that you had every intention to return the car.

Consent or Right

In many cases, it can be unclear whether you had the authority to take the car. Sometimes, it may appear that you had the consent of the other person to take the car; in other cases, you may have appeared to have been authorized to take the car but were not.

Additionally, the right to the car may be in question. This is most common in divorce cases, where the person being kicked out of the house may take several cars that they claim belong to them. Additionally, if you assume control of a car of which’s title is in dispute, then you may face a theft charge.

Mistaken Claim

In some cases, you may argue that you had sufficient reason to believe that the car in question was either abandoned or free to take. Seemingly abandoned cars by the side of the road are one example. If you are charged with theft, then your lawyer will need to prove that the car in question could reasonably be believed to be abandoned.

Refuting Evidence

In cases where there is no dispute as to the legality of the taking, your lawyer may instead seek to refute charges that you took possession of the property altogether. In such a case, your lawyer will seek to limit the court’s use of, digital evidence, fingerprinting, or seek to cast doubt on potential witnesses.

The best defense against theft, however, is that you were never in a position to take the car. This is called an alibi, and your lawyer will seek to prove that you are nowhere near the car, or did not have access to the car when it was taken.

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Auto theft is automatically punishable as a class “D” Felony, but may be prosecuted as a Class “C” Felony if the cost of the car is high enough.

Class “D” Felonies are punishable by:

  • 0 to 5 years in prison
  • Fine of up to $10,245
  • Fine of up to 15% of the stolen vehicle’s cost

Class “C” Felonies are punishable by:

  • 0 to 10 years in prison
  • Fine of up to $13,660
  • Fine of up to 15% the value of the stolen property

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Additional Resources

“What Happens if My Stolen Car is Recovered?”– This article from Progressive showcases what you can expect if your car is stolen and then recovered by authorities. So long as it’s in your policy, insurance companies will pay out any damages that occurred as a result of the theft, and a total cash value if the car is considered a total loss.

Pleasant Hill, Iowa – The city of Pleasant Hill has some tips on avoiding car theft. Some of these tips, such as taking any valuables and keys seem commonplace but are not always followed. As a result, 42% of auto thefts occur while the keys are still in the vehicle.

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Hire an Auto Theft  Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with auto theft, then you face a felony conviction and significant time in prison. These charges can follow you for the rest of your life, and impact your employment, education opportunities and relationships with friends and family.

Call us today at (515) 279-9700 for a free consultation.

Our attorneys represent the accused throughout Polk County and Dallas County, including in West Des Moines, Ankeny, Urbandale and Johnson, and all over Iowa.

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