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Passenger In a Stolen Vehicle Explained

Passenger in stolen vehicle: criminal liability?

Will you get in trouble if you’re a passenger in a stolen vehicle?  In short: maybe.  If you get caught, you’re certainly exposed to criminal liability.  Riding as a passenger in a stolen vehicle is a crime in Wisconsin.

The criminal defense attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. defend drivers and passengers in this situation.  If you’re charged with taking and driving without owners consent, give us a call.

Elements of the Crime

While not as criminally culpable as being the driver of a stolen vehicle, passengers in stolen cars won’t be let off the hook.  Wisconsin criminalizes being a passenger in a stolen vehicle – Wis. Stat. Sec. 943.23(4m).  These are the elements the state must prove to convict you of being a passenger in a stolen vehicle:

  • You must intentionally be a passenger in a stolen vehicle;
  • You must know that the owner of the vehicle did not consent to the taking of the vehicle;

If these two elements exist, then you can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor.  Note that if you assist the driver of the vehicle in taking the car from the owner by use or threat of force, you can be convicted of a Class E felony.  So how can the prosecutor prove that you are guilty of being a passenger in a stolen vehicle?  Here’s an example:

  • First, there needs to be a stolen car.  At its most basic level, a car is “stolen” when another person operates or drives the car without the owner’s consent.
  • Second, the prosecutor needs to prove that you intended to be a passenger in the stolen vehicle.  The prosecutor can prove this by showing a connection between you and the driver of the stolen car.
  • Third, the prosecutor must show that you knew the owner did not consent to the taking of the vehicle.  This means that you must know that the car was stolen.

What Can My Lawyer Do?

If you are facing charges, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can definitely help.  First, your lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor that you did not know the car was stolen.  Or, your lawyer may be able to show that the car was not actually “stolen.”  A lawyer can negotiate a positive resolution on your behalf.  There may be mitigating factors which reduce your liability.  For a Class A misdemeanor, the penalties range from fines on the low end to significant jail on the high end.  Probation is often on the table as well.

If the state’s evidence is weak, the trial attorneys at Meyer Van Severen are more than happy to take your case to trial.  The state has the burden to prove each and every element of the crime charged.  This means that the prosecutor must prove that you knew the car was stolen and that you knew the owner did not consent to the taking of the car.  In many cases, this is a difficult proposition.  Our attorneys will hold the state to their burden.  We will use every possible technique at trial to obtain a not guilty verdict.  If you want a skilled trial attorney on your case, give us a call today!