As a criminal charge in Ohio, unauthorized use of a vehicle is a type of theft perpetrated by simply taking a car or other motorized vehicle without permission. Alleged auto thefts committed while using force, threats of force, or intentional deception are covered by different sections of Ohio’s criminal code.
Do not, however, interpret that baseline explanation to mean that being charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle in Columbus or Franklin County is no big deal. You will likely spend time in jail if you get convicted of the alleged offense as well as being assessed a hefty fine. A court order to make restitution to the victim is also a common component of the sentence.
The relevant section of the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) does spell out two strong defenses against the charge, however. If one of those applies in your case, partnering with an experienced Columbus criminal defense attorney could help you in your fight to have the charges dismissed.
Section 2913.03 of the O.R.C. states, “No person shall knowingly use or operate an aircraft, motor vehicle, motorcycle, motorboat, or other motor-propelled vehicle without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent.” The key phrase is “without consent,” and the statute also makes it a crime to take a vehicle out of state for longer than 48 hours unless the owner has given permission. Consent can be given after the fact.
Generally, violations of the statute are prosecuted as misdemeanors of the first degree. The maximum statutory penalties for such an offense are 180 days in jail and a criminal fine of $1,000.
Unauthorized use of a vehicle will be prosecuted as a felony offense when the owner of the car, motorcycle, or boat is elderly, disabled, or suffers a financial loss of at least $1,000. Maximum statutory penalties for a felony conviction in Ohio start at 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 for a felony in the fifth degree. The seriousness of a felony charge and penalties for unauthorized use of a vehicle increase as the financial loss to the purported victim rises.
O.R.C. 2913.03 lists two “affirmative defenses” against a charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle. These are
Importantly, it does not matter if the person facing the criminal charge was mistaken in their belief they had permission. Establishing that they believed they were allowed to use the vehicle is enough to convince a judge or jury to find you not guilty of the criminal charge.
Now, calling a defense “affirmative” does not make it a get out jail free card. A judge is required to take the defense seriously, but the person asserting the defense must still produce evidence to substantiate their version of events. Partnering with a criminal defense attorney can make it easier to identify and depose corroborating witnesses, locate relevant documents, and put together a timeline of discussions and oral agreements.
Colin Maher of the Columbus-based Maher Law Firm handles criminal and traffic defense for clients throughout Franklin County. You can contact us online or speak with Colin directly by calling (614) 205-2208.