If you have been arrested and charged with the criminal offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (UUMV) or auto theft in the Fort Worth or surrounding cities in Tarrant County, Texas, contact Jeff Hampton with The Hampton Law Firm immediately for a free consultation to explain your legal rights and options under Texas law.
According to Texas Penal Code, Title 7: Offenses Against Property, Chapter 31: Theft, Section 31.07, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office will be required to prove the following elements of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle beyond a reasonable doubt:
A person commits the offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle if he intentionally or knowingly operates another’s boat, airplane, or motor-propelled vehicle without the effective consent of the owner.
Under Texas Penal Code, Section 31.07(b), the crime of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is a state jail felony, punishable by a term of confinement in a Texas state jail facility of not less than 180 days but not more than 2 years.
What Is The Difference Between Auto Theft and UUMV?
Although the crime of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is found under the theft section of the Texas Penal Code, there is no requirement that the value of the vehicle be established.
Additionally, as you can see from elements of the crime, there is no requirement by the prosecution to prove that a theft occurred. In fact, many people refer to the crime of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as “joy riding.”
To be charged with auto theft, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally or knowingly took the property (car or truck) of another, without their effective consent, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
However, with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, you do not have to have the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. You must only have operated the vehicle without the effective consent of the owner. This is one of the reasons unauthorized use of a motor vehicle has been call “joy riding.”
If you have been arrested and charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle or auto theft, it is critical that you first hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney that has a proven track record of obtaining favorable results for their clients. In addition to this, you must also educate yourself on Texas law as it relates to defenses to these crimes.
When considering legal defenses to unauthorized use of a vehicle, it is important to remember that under the United States and Texas Constitutions, you are presumed innocent and not required to prove anything. The burden of proof to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime always rests on the prosecutor. As a result, every doubt that can be established on your criminal case provides your criminal defense lawyer more leverage to negotiate a favorable result for you.
Defense of Consent
The prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you DID NOT have valid consent of the owner to operate the vehicle. What if there is reasonable doubt to believe that you did have consent to operate the motor vehicle? What if there is reasonable doubt because you had previously operated this alleged victim’s vehicle with no complaint?
For example: we represented a client where he was arrested and charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle because the mother became angry that her son had been out driving the parent’s classic car. She became so enraged about her son’s behavior that she immediately called the police and asked for him to be arrested because he did not have consent to drive the car. Our client had previously been given permission to drive the vehicle. This piece of evidence was important for us to know. However, most importantly, the mother did not know that the father had told the son he would be permitted to drive the car that night. In this instance, we met with the father, had him provide a sworn affidavit and used this as our primary weapon to help our client get his unauthorized use of a vehicle case dismissed.
This same legal defense holds true for auto theft. The State of Texas will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the owner did not consent to you taking the vehicle at the time of the alleged crime. If there is evidence through text messages, emails, voice mails or other evidence that shows that you had previously been given consent to drive the vehicle or you had a reasonable belief that you had consent to operate the vehicle then the reasonable doubt could be used by your criminal attorney to get your auto theft case dismissed.
Lack of Criminal Intent
Similar to the defense of consent, the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally or knowingly operated another person’s vehicle without the valid consent of the owner. How does this criminal defense apply? What if you believed you had received valid consent from someone you believed was the owner?
For example: we represented a client that had been arrested for unauthorized use of a vehicle because he was driving what he thought was his friend’s vehicle. He had been spending time together with his friends and asked if he could run to the store to buy some food and drinks. One of his friends threw him the keys and told him to pick him up something as well. The client got in the car and drove to the store. The actual owner of the car comes out of the restroom and sees that his car is gone so he calls the police and says he never gave our client consent to drive the vehicle. Should he be convicted of the crime of unauthorized use of a vehicle or auto theft? NO! In this situation, not only did the client NOT have criminal intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, but he also acted under a reasonable belief that he did have consent to operate the vehicle when driving to the store. By gathering an affidavit from the witness who threw the keys to our client, we were able to create reasonable doubt to show that the crime of unauthorized use of a vehicle or auto theft did not occur.
Because Unauthorized Use Of A Vehicle is a State Jail Felony, a conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle would have devastating consequences on the average citizen. Because this crime is classified as a felony, a conviction would result in a loss of your freedom and severely damage your reputation and limit your opportunity to obtain or retain employment.
For a first-time offender, receiving a conviction should not be an option you ever consider. It is important to fight for your freedom and reputation by hiring an aggressive criminal lawyer that knows the courts in Tarrant County and is willing to do what it takes to protect your clean record.
At The Hampton Law Firm, we strive to achieve the following goals for every client we represent:
- Stay Out Of Jail And Prison – our team of criminal defense attorneys always make staying out of jail and prison our number one priority for every client. This involves a partnership between attorney and client where we analyze the evidence, share the evidence with you and get your feedback. We then formulate a criminal defense strategy of how to attack the case and work with you to negotiate with prosecution for a favorable result.
- Avoid A Felony Conviction – becoming a convicted felon is not an option. Even under a worst-case scenario, we would want to look to resolve an unauthorized use of a vehicle charge for a deferred adjudication probation that would allow you to receive a non-disclosure after completion of all requirements. You must fight, at all costs, to avoid a felony conviction.
- Clear Your Criminal Record – finally, having a criminal record where people can still see that you have been arrested for unauthorized use of a vehicle can be devastating to you. It is critical that you are collaborating with a criminal lawyer that has not only the experience to obtain a favorable result on your criminal case, but also has the knowledge to know how Texas expunction and non-disclosure law applies to your case. The worst thing that can happen to you on a case like this is to think you were resolving your case for a favorable result only to learn later that you cannot get it off your record.
In addition to the goals listed above, The Hampton Law Firm also strives to get your unauthorized use of a vehicle case dismissed. Let us examine a few possible ways this felony case could be dismissed:
- Grand Jury No Bill – a presentation to a grand jury is one of the most effective ways to get an unauthorized use of a vehicle charge dismissed. If your case lacks sufficient evidence, your criminal defense attorney can prepare a packet of evidence for presentation to the grand jury. By taking the time to prepare a persuasive packet of evidence, the grand jury has an opportunity to hear another side of the story and rule in your favor. If the grand jury agrees with your criminal attorney’s presentation, your case can be no billed. A No Bill is the equivalent of full exoneration. Upon completion of the statute of limitations, you will be eligible to have your arrest and charge expunged from your criminal record.
- Case Dismissed For Lack Of Evidence – if your felony auto theft or unauthorized use of a vehicle case makes it past the grand jury, your criminal lawyer may be able to negotiate a dismissal of the charges directly with the prosecutor. By emphasizing the weaknesses of the case, your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor that the case is unable to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This process can sometimes take over a year to complete in Tarrant County, Texas but it is critical that your criminal attorney is willing to fight to get you the best result.
- Conditional Dismissal – depending upon the facts and circumstances of your unauthorized use of a vehicle case, it may be possible negotiate a conditional dismissal of your charge. Under this arrangement, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss your case in exchange for you completing certain conditions (community service, classes, etc.).
- Jury Trial – if all negotiations result in the prosecutor continuing to be unreasonable, you and your criminal attorney always have the right to a jury trial. At a jury trial, the State of Texas will be required to bring evidence through witnesses proving beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime of unauthorized use of a vehicle. Failure to prove each element of the crime will require the jury to find you not guilty, clearing you of all charges. A not guilty verdict makes you immediately eligible for an expunction of all arrest and case records.
At The Hampton Law Firm, you have the opportunity to collaborate with a team of Former Tarrant County Prosecutors with over 90 years of experience. Our team of criminal defense attorneys have tried over five hundred criminal jury trials in the courts of Tarrant County and North Texas. We have handled hundreds of unauthorized use of a vehicle and auto theft cases and stand ready to help protect your freedom, your future, and your good name.
We will aggressively defend you from a conviction and look to negotiate a dismissal or reduction of your charges to make you eligible for this charge to be cleared from your record.
Call The Hampton Law Firm now for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options under Texas law. Contact Jeff Hampton at 817-826-9905.