Use of Vehicle Without Authority
It is a well established right that an individual has the right to possess and protect his or her public property. In Massachusetts, a motor vehicle is considered private property and is thus protected from others. The crime of larceny is a common law crime involving the theft of another person’s property with the intent to deprive him or her of its possession permanently. Use of a motor vehicle without authority is a lesser-included offense of larceny of a motor vehicle, without the element of intending to deprive the owner of possession permanently as established by the Court in Commonwealth v. Giannino. Even though the crime of using a motor vehicle without authority is a lesser-included offense, it is still a very serious crime that could result in a prison sentence. In cases such as this, admission to sufficient facts or evidence may do more harm than good, even if you were mistaken as to whether you had valid authority to use the vehicle. Early intervention by a skilled Massachusetts motor vehicle crimes defense attorney may be hugely beneficial on the outcome of a case.
M.G.L. c. 90, § 24 [a] provides that any individual who uses a vehicle without authority or permission knowing that such use is unauthorized shall be in violation of this law. A conviction for a first offense shall punishable by the following:
- A fine ranging from $50- $500, or
- Imprisonment for not less than 30 days nor more than 2 years, or
- Both fine and imprisonment.
A conviction for a second offense shall be punishable by the following:
- Imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years, or
- Minimum mandatory imprisonment in a house of correction for 30 days, but no more than 2.5 years, or
- A fine not to exceed $1,000, or
- Both such fine and imprisonment.
Any individual found guilty of a third or subsequent offense in Massachusetts for using a vehicle without authority committed within 5 years of the earliest of his two most recent prior offenses shall be punishable by the following:
- A fine of not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than two and one half years in a house of correction or for not less than two and one half years nor more than five years in the state prison or by both fine and imprisonment.
In order for a defendant to be found guilty of this offense, the Commonwealth must prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant used a motor vehicle;
- At the time he or she used that motor vehicle, he or she did so without the permission of the owner, or the permission of some other person who possessed the legal right of control ordinarily exercised by the owner; and
- At the time he or she used the motor vehicle, the defendant knew that he or she was not authorized to use that vehicle.
For the purposes of this law, it is considered “use” if a person rides in the car, either as the driver or as a passenger. It is not necessary that the defendant personally drove or controlled the vehicle; only that he or she was physically in the vehicle while it moved. Under this law, the Commonwealth must be able to prove that the defendant had knowledge that his or her use of the vehicle was unauthorized. This may be established through testimony by the owner or other person in charge of the vehicle, or inferences may be made regarding specific facts surrounding the circumstances.