Children in trouble may be quick to defend themselves by pleading that they didn’t mean to do it. Whatever the action that prompted discipline, they instinctively know that their motives behind it may change the grown-up’s view of the misconduct, perhaps even lessen the punishment.

In the adult world, the criminal justice system often takes into consideration the motives of a crime when filing charges or handing down sentences. Your intentions may have everything to do with the way police and prosecutors handle your case. One example of this is if you are accused of taking a vehicle that didn’t belong to you.

What’s the difference?

Stealing a car is known as grand theft auto and is usually a felony. However, certain conditions may affect the seriousness of the charge, for example:

  • How much was the vehicle worth?
  • In what condition did authorities recover the vehicle?
  • How long did you intend to keep the vehicle from its lawful owner?

In other words, were you stealing the car or simply taking it for a joyride? Joyriding is also car theft, but authorities may decide to charge you with a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Often joyriding happens on the spur of the moment when you borrow someone’s car without permission or come across a parked vehicle with the keys in the ignition. You may plan to take it around the block or across town but intend to return it when you are finished.

But I didn’t mean to….

Your intentions for taking the vehicle will be an important consideration. Joyriding is very different from grand theft auto in the eyes of the law. When someone steals a car, he or she has no intention of returning it to the owner. Often car thieves will sell the car for parts or keep it for personal use, depriving the owner of it permanently.

While joyriding is often a misdemeanor, the law allows prosecutors to weigh many factors before deciding how serious the charge will be. For example, if the vehicle you took for a joyride was of great value, or if police recovered the car on its side in a ditch, the prosecutor may decide to file felony charges. Your previous history may also factor into the decision to charge you with joyriding or GTA.

Because of the harsh penalties associated with a conviction for either of these charges, having legal counsel as early as possible would certainly be to your advantage.