Operating a vehicle without owner’s consent is a serious charge in Wisconsin. Sometimes called grand theft auto in other jurisdictions, this charge focuses on stealing a vehicle from someone else. Prior to May 2023, this statute also included subsections that described a law called carjacking. Now, a separate statute, section 943.342 of the Wisconsin Statutes, describes that crime.
The criminal defense attorneys at Van Severen Law Office, S.C. have a significant amount of experience defending criminal charges involving stolen vehicles and property. Frequently these charges are felony-level and have the potential for significant prison sentences. This is especially the case when the media, public, and lawmakers all take serious stands against crimes involving vehicles. We recognize how serious these charges are, and we dedicate 100% of our practice to defending individuals just like you.
If you’re facing a charge for operating a vehicle without owner’s consent, contact our law firm immediately. We offer free, one-hour initial consultations to individuals facing criminal charges. You can reach us 24/7 at (414) 270-0202.
Section 943.23 of the Wisconsin Statutes defines operating a vehicle without owner’s consent. The crime has many different versions that include different penalties:
You’ll notice the statute differentiates between “taking and driving” and “drives or operates.”
At your initial consultation your criminal defense attorney is likely to talk about the “elements” of the offense. Elements are parts of an offense that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. They’re the ingredients in the recipe. If one of the ingredients is missing, and the government cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury must find the defendant “not guilty.”
We’ll take a look at Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1464, which provides us the elements of taking and driving a vehicle without owner’s consent.
A few definitions are important in understanding this crime.
Importantly, a person may drive/operate a vehicle without the owner’s consent even though the owner consented to the original taking. This is the kind of situation where an individual borrows another’s car. If I keep that car longer than you agreed to, I’m committing a crime. Our criminal defense attorneys will discuss the criminal elements of the offense at your initial consultation.
Each criminal case is different, and each criminal case requires a different defense. At the initial consultation with your criminal defense lawyer, we’ll discuss possible defenses to your case. Sometimes we’ll have motions to file. Other times we’ll be looking to take your case to jury trial. Finally, sometimes cases resolve via plea negotiations.
Importantly, operating without owner’s consent has a special defense, called an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense says “I did it” but there’s a legal reason for doing it. Affirmative defenses either reduce the penalty or cause the defendant to be found “not guilty.” In this case, the affirmative defense reduces the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor.
The question is, did “the defendant abandon the vehicle without damage within 24 hours after the vehicle was taken from the possession of the owner”? Abandon means that the defendant must have freely, voluntarily, and permanently given up possession of the vehicle. The giving up of possession is not free and voluntary if it was done because of fear of immediate capture by police. Additionally, a person who sold or gives the vehicle to another person has not abandoned it within the meaning of the statute.
Facing felony charges alone can be scary. But we think it’s even scarier if you’re facing these charges with the wrong criminal defense attorney. Remember: just because someone accepts your money doesn’t mean they’re good.
But that’s different at Van Severen Law Office, S.C., where our criminal defense attorneys and firm have been recognized as some of the best in Wisconsin. We regularly fight charges involving stolen vehicles and we understand what’s necessary to successfully defend a client facing this charge.
Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 to begin speaking with one of our criminal defense lawyers.