Colorado Auto Theft Charge? Don’t Drive a Stolen Car to Court

Here’s a lesson you hopefully don’t need us to teach you: do not drive a stolen car to court after being accused of car theft.

Sounds obvious, right? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a Connecticut man did earlier this month.

Jonathan Rivera, 25, was scheduled to appear in court on charges of first-degree larceny and tampering with a vehicle. He showed up for his court appearance in a 2014 Subaru Legacy.

When he arrived, parking authority agents scanned the license plates and discovered the vehicle matched the description of a different stolen vehicle, prompting police to arrest Rivera at the courthouse. Now, he’s facing charges of second-degree larceny and taking a vehicle without permission in addition to his original charges.

In this post, we’ll detail the laws on auto theft in Colorado, including penalties, then talk about what you should do and how a qualified attorney can help you fight your charges.

Colorado Motor Vehicle Theft Laws

Any motor vehicle that does not run on rails, and is powered by anything other than muscle power, is protected by Colorado motor vehicle theft laws.

To be charged with motor vehicle theft, an individual must knowingly take or control someone else’s motor vehicle by using deception or threat. These actions qualify as second degree motor vehicle theft in Colorado.

If any of these additional factors are involved, the offense will be charged as first degree motor theft.

  • More than 24 hours of control or possession of the vehicle
  • Attempting to disguise or alter the vehicle, or remove or alter the vehicle identification number
  • Committing a crime while using the vehicle
  • Causing at least $500 in damage to property
  • Causing another person’s bodily injury
  • Displaying a different license plate
  • Exiting the state in the vehicle for more than 12 hours

The offense will be tried in the place where the theft occurred and be subject to local jurisdiction.

Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft in Colorado

The penalties for motor vehicle theft vary depending on the value of the vehicle and whether the defendant has prior convictions. Here is an overview of the charges and penalties.

First Degree Aggravated Theft: Class 3 Felony

  • Vehicle worth over $100,000
  • Defendant has two prior convictions of the same nature
  • Up to 12 years in prison
  • Up to $750,000 in fines

First Degree Aggravated Theft: Class 4 Felony

  • Vehicle worth between $20,000 and $100,000
  • Up to 6 years in prison
  • Up to $500,000 in fines


Penalties for Motor Vehicle Theft in ColoradoFirst Degree Aggravated Theft: Class 5 Felony

  • Vehicle worth is less than $20,000
  • Up to 3 years in prison
  • Up to $100,000 in fines

Second Degree Aggravated Theft: Class 5 Felony

  • Vehicle worth is more than $20,000
  • Up to 3 years in prison
  • Up to $100,000 in fines

Second Degree Aggravated Theft: Class 6 Felony

  • Vehicle worth is between $1,000 and $20,000
  • Between 1 and 1.5 years in prison
  • Up to $100,000 in fines

Class 1 Misdemeanor

  • Vehicle worth is less than $1,000
  • Between six months and 1.5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines

Any motor vehicle theft conviction, regardless of vehicle worth, will result the loss of driving privileges.

Defenses to Motor Vehicle Theft Charges

Several defenses have been successfully used in motor vehicle theft cases. Here are some that may work for you if you are facing motor vehicle theft charges in Colorado.

Authorized possession

If you have evidence to prove that you were granted permission to use the vehicle, your charges can be dropped. This defense applies only if you used the vehicle within the specified time period, and if you kept the vehicle within the area permitted by the owner.

Lack of knowledge

The charge hinges on whether you have knowledge that the action was unlawful. If you can prove that you had reasonable belief that the owner provided authorized use, this defense may work. For example, if you are a college student and your friend forged her parent’s permission on a note stating you could use the parent’s vehicle for the weekend, you may be able to use this defense.

Defenses to Motor Vehicle Theft Charges in Denver


Choice between evils

If you were acting under duress and chose to drive away in a stolen vehicle or face bodily injury from an attacker, this defense may be permitted.


If you were enticed into committing the crime in order to enable a charge against you, you may be able to use the entrapment defense.

Since the penalties are significant for a motor vehicle theft conviction, it’s essential that you consult with an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney to fight your charges. Your attorney will build a solid defense against the charges and work to get your charges reduced or dropped. Reach out today for a free, no-obligation case review.





About the Author: 

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.