Can you believe there were nearly 1,700 (1,681) arrests for motor vehicle theft or “grand theft auto” in Hillsborough County in 2019?

And the total for Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties combined was 4,423 in 2018.

Motor vehicle theft in Florida is a serious crime that’s taken seriously by all the law enforcement agencies in and around Tampa.

The FBI says that $6.3 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2018. The average dollar loss per stolen vehicle was about $8,500.

In Florida, grand theft auto or motor vehicle theft is a felony. Florida Statute § 801.014(1) says that a person commits theft if she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to (temporarily or permanently) deprive the other person of a right or benefit to the property or appropriates the property to her own use or to the use of someone not entitled to its use.

What are the Penalties in Florida Law for Grand Theft Auto?

It’s a felony to commit any motor vehicle theft. The penalties for grand theft auto are based on the vehicle’s value and the circumstances of the crime, according to Florida Statute § 812.014(2)(c). Here’s the breakdown:

Third-Degree Felony

Theft of a motor vehicle valued at less than $20,000 is a third-degree felony. Florida Statute § 775.082 provides that a third-degree felony carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of no more than $5,000.

Second-Degree Felony

An individual who steals a motor vehicle valued at $20,000 or more but less than $100,000 commits a felony in the second degree. A person convicted of a felony in the second degree faces a prison term not exceeding 15 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both pursuant to Florida Statute § 775.082(3)(d).

First-Degree Felony

Finally, an individual who steals a motor vehicle valued at more than $100,000 commits a felony in the first degree. In addition, it’s a first-degree felony to steal a semitrailer deployed by a law enforcement officer.

Plus, a person also commits a first-degree felony by using a motor vehicle (other than as a getaway vehicle) to commit any grand theft offense. It’s a first-degree felony if “[i]n the course of committing the offense”, a person “uses a motor vehicle as an instrumentality … to assist in committing the offense and thereby damages the real property of another.”

It’s also a first-degree felony if, in the course of committing the offense, the offender causes damage to the real or personal property of another in excess of $1,000.

A person convicted of a felony in the first degree faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Is Joyriding Grand Theft Auto?

Yes. Note that Florida Statute § 801.014(1) states that an individual commits theft if she knowingly uses or tries to use the property of another with intent to even temporarily deprive or appropriate. As a result, a joyride would be considered motor vehicle theft in the same way as if a person intended to steal and keep a vehicle permanently.

What Does Florida’s Definition of “Motor Vehicle” Include?

It’s not just a Honda Civic or a Ford F-150 truck (two of the most popular vehicles to steal). In addition, Florida Statute § 320.01 defines “motor vehicle” as any of the following:

  • A motorcycle;
  • A truck;
  • A trailer;
  • A semitrailer, truck tractor, and semitrailer combination; or
  • Any other vehicle operated on a Florida road that’s used to transport people or property and isn’t manually propelled.

The term doesn’t include traction engines, road rollers, motorized scooters, micromobility devices, personal delivery devices, and vehicles that run only upon a track, bicycles, electric bicycles, swamp buggies, or mopeds.


In Florida, to be found guilty of grand theft of a motor vehicle, the prosecution must show the following:

  • The defendant knowingly and unlawfully used, obtained, or attempted to use or obtain the motor vehicle of another; and
  • She had the intent to permanently or temporarily (i) deprive the victim of his right to the motor vehicle; or (ii) to appropriate the motor vehicle for her own use or to another’s use who wasn’t entitled to it.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

An experienced criminal defense lawyer from McLean & Mitchell will be involved in every step of the criminal process to make certain that as the accused you are treated fairly and have the best opportunity for success.

Hire a lawyer from McLean & Mitchell who has the ability to investigate, negotiate, advocate, and litigate to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.

Contact the criminal defense attorneys at McLean & Mitchell to discuss your case in a free consultation.

Our attorneys were former state prosecutors and know the inner workings of Florida’s criminal justice system. McLean & Mitchell are experienced, qualified criminal defense experts in Tampa, Florida. We fight for your rights.