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What Happens if I Take a Car Without Consent but Return It?

Joyriding: It sounds like a leisurely activity. You're just out on the road enjoying a drive. However, in Tennessee, it actually refers to a criminal offense that can result in jail time and fines.

Let’s say John and Christa saw that their neighbor bought a new sports car. They wanted to take it out for a spin to feel how it drove. Their neighbor wasn’t home, so they couldn’t ask to borrow the car, but they knew where the keys were.

John and Christa went into their neighbor’s house, grabbed the keys to the sports car, and took off in it. About 15 minutes later, they pulled up in the neighbor’s driveway and saw that he was pretty upset. He said he thought someone stole the car and had called the police. However, John and Christa were confused. They returned the vehicle; they didn’t steal it.

When the cops arrived, John and Christa tried to explain that they didn’t commit theft, but they were arrested regardless.

How Does Tennessee Define Theft?

In Tennessee, an individual commits theft when they take a person’s property without that individual’s permission and with no intention to return it. That means if John and Christa had driven off with their neighbor’s car and didn’t come back with it, they would have been charged with theft.

Theft is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and the penalties John and Christa could have faced depend on the value of the vehicle.

If the sports car (or any type of property) was worth:

  • $1,000 or less, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor
  • Between $1,001 and $2,499, the offense is a Class E felony
  • Between $2,500 and $9,999, the offense is a Class D felony
  • Between $10,000 and $59,999, the offense is a Class C felony
  • Between $60,000 and $249,999, the offense is a Class B felony
  • $250,000 or more, the offense is a Class A felony

What’s Joyriding?

John and Christa weren’t charged with theft, they were charged with joyriding. What distinguishes the two offenses is the intent behind the actions. With theft, a person does not intend to return the car. However, a person accused of joyriding does not have the intent to deprive the owner of the property. In a way, this offense is like borrowing but without permission.

The joyriding law doesn’t just concern vehicles; it can be committed if a person takes any of the following:

  • Automobile,
  • Airplane,
  • Motorcycle,
  • Bicycle,
  • Boat, or
  • Other vehicles

Joyriding is a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction carries up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

Are you facing a theft crime charge in Knoxville? Contact Eldridge and Cravens, PC for aggressive legal defense. We can be reached by phone at (865) 544-2010 or online.