King County Sheriff's deputies reported stopping an 11-year old boy who was driving a red Subaru Impreza erratically through a neighborhood bordering SeaTac airport. Deputies had to perform a “PIT” or “precision immobilization technique” maneuver – in which an officer slams the front bumper of his car into the rear of the fleeing vehicle, causing the vehicle to spin and come to a stop – in order to force an end to the child's joyride. Thankfully, no one was hurt in this encounter, but the Sheriff's Office is reportedly investigating the juvenile suspect for vehicle theft.
Theft of a motor vehicle under Washington State law requires that the charged party must have intended to deprive the owner of his or her vehicle. In situations where proving this intent would be difficult for prosecutors, they may decide instead to charge the individual with the crime of “taking a motor vehicle without permission,” a crime commonly referred to as “joyriding.”
Joyriding is a crime wherein one takes another person's vehicle out for a drive without permission from the vehicle's owner. Often, it is young adults who commit this crime as a thrill or act of defiance. In those situations, the intent of the offender is not to permanently steal the other person's car, but rather to drive around for fun. However, joyriding is potentially dangerous and can lead to property damage or injury to the offender and others. As such, Washington State has attached serious criminal charges to this behavior.
The Revised Code of Washington contains two related prohibitions against joyriding: RCW 9A.56.070 – “Taking motor vehicle without permission in the first degree,” and RCW 9A.56.075 – “Taking motor vehicle without permission in the second degree.”
An individual can be charged with taking a motor vehicle without permission if s/he, without the permission of the owner of the vehicle, “intentionally takes or drives away any automobile or motor vehicle.” That charge will rise to “taking motor vehicle without permission in the first degree” if the person taking the vehicle also:
- Changes or removes the vehicle's serial number or vehicle identification number (VIN) plates;
- Removes parts from the vehicle, intending to sell them;
- Exports the vehicle across state lines or out of the country for profit;
- Intends to sell the motor vehicle; or
- Recruits a juvenile to take the vehicle as part of a vehicle theft conspiracy.
Taking a motor vehicle without permission in the first degree is a class B felony punishable by up to ten years in jail. See RCW 9A.20.021(b). Adult offenders can also face a fine of up to $20,000 in addition to, or in lieu of jail time.
Seattle and King County Joy Ride Attorney
If none of the additional circumstances listed above exist, an individual who intentionally takes or drives away someone else's motor vehicle can still be charged with taking a motor vehicle without permission in the second degree. Prosecutors can even charge passengers in a joyride, so long as the passenger knew that the vehicle was unlawfully taken and still voluntarily went for the joyride. This charge can be serious. If you have been charged with joyriding or auto theft, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-621-8777.