What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?

July 19, 2016 Blog

This may seem like something that a third-grader would know, but you’d be surprised how many adults blur the lines between stealing and joyriding in a car. So at the risk of insulting everyone’s intelligence, here it is: a person who steals a car has no intention of returning that car. Joyriding is taking a car that doesn’t belong to them, with every intention of returning the car. Obviously, stealing a car is much more serious than joyriding.

Temporary or Permanent

Unauthorized use of a vehicle, or joyriding, in most states means operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent and either:

a) Without intending to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle; or
b) With intending to deprive the owner of their vehicle, but only temporarily.

By way of example, if your teenager sneaks out in the middle of the night and takes your car for a spin, that is considered joyriding. Grand theft auto is committed when a thief steals your car from your driveway and moves it out of the country. So you can see there is a big difference.

Lesser-Included Offenses

A lesser-included offense is a crime that is committed that contains some, but not all, of the elements of a more serious crime making it impossible to commit the more serious crime without also committing the less-serious crime. When one crime is a lesser-included offense of another, it can impact a criminal trial in a few ways:

• Which instructions are given to the jury

• Whether a defendant charged with the greater crime can be convicted of the lesser crime

• Whether the Double Jeopardy Clause (which prohibits trying someone twice for the same crime and any lesser-included crimes) bars conviction for both crimes.

Consent as a Defense

Probably the most common defense to the charge of joyriding is consent. If the owner of the vehicle told the defendant it was O.K. to use their car, then there is no crime. However, just because the owner once allowed the defendant to use the car, does not establish consent for the present crime. In other words, the relevant issue for the prosecution in a joyriding case is whether or not the owner of the car allowed the defendant to use their car on that particular occasion.


In Florida, a person who knowingly takes or uses another person’s motor vehicle with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the vehicle, either temporarily or permanently, is guilty of the felony of grand theft. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §812.014.) The felony degree depends upon the value of the vehicle and/or whether the defendant used the vehicle as a weapon or to commit other offenses. And because the crime includes even temporary use, joyriding is prosecuted under the same statute.

If you or someone you know has been charged with auto theft or joyriding, it is important for you to speak to a local criminal defense attorney who can tell you what to expect in court and the likely outcome of your case. Remember, a criminal conviction can haunt you for the rest of your life. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to avoid a criminal conviction.


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