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Defenses to Car Theft in Pennsylvania

March 23, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In early February, two people broke into a home, stole car keys, and then used the vehicle in the driveway to flee the property. The vehicle has not been returned and Bucks County police are asking the public for help in locating them. If found, the pair will likely be charged with burglary, for entering the home, and with theft, for stealing the vehicle.

Unlike in other states that specifically define auto theft as a separate crime, stealing a car in Pennsylvania is an offense that falls under the broad crime of theft. While facing these charges is serious, it is not hopeless. There are several different defenses to car theft, which are outlined below.


For someone to be convicted of theft in Pennsylvania, the owner of the property must not have provided consent. Law enforcement officials will typically determine if the accused had permission to take the property before conducting their investigation. Proving the accused had consent from the lawful property owner is often difficult because it is usually the owner of the possession that called law enforcement initially. However, this does not mean it cannot be done.

Lack of Intent

To be convicted of a theft crime, a person must have the intention to deprive the property owner of the property. In the case of theft of a vehicle specifically, a person may take a vehicle with the intent to go joyriding, which is a much less serious crime than car theft. They had no intent to steal the car and so, they cannot be convicted of the crime.

Mistaken Identity

Like all crimes, mistaken identity is often used as a defense to car theft. Law enforcement does not always get it right when they press charges against someone, and they may wrongly assume that someone is guilty of a crime when they are not. Eyewitnesses may also mistake one person for someone else, which could result in the wrong person being charged as well.

Lack of Knowledge

While it may not sound feasible, a person may not always realize that they are using a stolen vehicle. For example, a person may purchase a used car from someone else not knowing that it was originally stolen. They may then get pulled over because the license plate numbers were reported as stolen to the police. In this case, the person that is using the vehicle cannot be charged with car theft because they were not the one that stole the car.

Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania Can Provide the Defense You Need

Facing criminal charges is always scary, but you do not have to do it alone. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can advise on your case. Our skilled attorneys know the defenses to use and will build a strong case to give you the best chance of a successful outcome. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation and obtain the legal advice you need.



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