Theft of Motor Vehicle - Court of Appeals Decision

A person commits a theft of motor vehicle whenever that person “takes or drives a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or an authorized agent of the owner, knowing or having reason to know that the owner or an authorized agent of the owner did not give consent.” Minn. Stat. 609.52, subd. 2(a)(17). A recent case analyzed how ‘takes’ is defined in order to determine what action or actions is necessary in order to satisfy this element of the offense.

Before getting to the Court of Appeals decision, let’s review what the parties argued. The State argued that ‘takes’ requires mere control over the vehicle, while the defense argued it requires actually moving the vehicle with control.

Beginning its analysis, the Court determined that the word ‘takes’ is ambiguous because it can be defined as including possession or control and/or actually moving something. Due to this ambiguity, the Court focused on how the theft statute as a whole uses the term ‘takes’ in attempt to determine legislation intent.

The Court found that the theft statute used ‘takes’ regularly to refer to acts that require actual movement and not simply control by the defendant. For instance, theft of movable personal property requires a person to “intentionally and without claim of right takes … movable property of another without the other’s consent and with intent to deprive the owner permanently of possession of the property.” The Court also referred to a 1917 case that analyzed the law the predates the existing statutory framework, which also supported the conclusion that takes means actual movement of the property.

Having decided that the term ‘takes’ requires movement of the property allegedly stolen, the Court then affirmed a district court decision that dismissed a theft of motor vehicle charge when the defendant was merely in possession/control of the vehicle but never moved it. In this case, the defendant entered the vehicle in the owner’s driveway, but it remained in place the entire time.

This case is further example as to why it’s critical to retain a theft of motor vehicle attorney to aggressively fight for you. Prosecutors often charge based upon a general understanding of the crimes, without carefully scrutinizing the facts to the elements of each case. But, the right Minnesota criminal defense attorney knows how to fight for you and can get this just result.