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District of Columbia Auto Theft Laws

In the District of Columbia, approximately 18 vehicles are stolen every day. Like many jurisdictions in the country, D.C. has made preventing auto thefts a top priority by establishing a motor vehicle prevention commission focused on strategies related to awareness, law enforcement, prosecution, and juvenile intervention.

Given this focus on auto theft prevention, it's not surprising that any violation of D.C.'s auto theft laws is taken very seriously. An offender can face costly fines and incarceration. The actual charges will mainly depend on whether you take a vehicle with the use of force or violence (carjacking) or merely take the vehicle without the consent of the owner (unauthorized use of a motor vehicle).

"Motor Vehicle" Definition

In Washington DC, a motor vehicle is defined as any of the following:

  • Automobile,
  • Self-propelled motor mobile home,
  • Motorcycle,
  • Truck,
  • Truck tractor,
  • Truck tractor with semitrailer or trailer, or
  • Bus.

A Review of the District of Columbia's Auto Theft Laws

When you need to know the law quickly even before you get to the point of consulting with an attorney, it's useful to read a clear-cut plain language summary of the statutes. The chart below is a condensed review of the laws on auto theft in D.C., including links to the relevant statutes.


District of Columbia Code Division IV.

  • Section 22-3215 (Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicles)
  • Section 22-2803 (Carjacking, Armed Carjacking)

Elements of the Crime


Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicles

An individual commits the crime of unauthorized use of motor vehicles if the following apply:

  • The individual takes, uses, operates, or causes a motor vehicle to be taken, used, or operated for their own purposes, without the consent of the owner; or
  • After renting/leasing motor vehicle under a written agreement, an individual intentionally fails to return the vehicle under the terms of the agreement within 18 days after written demand is made.


An individual commits carjacking by knowingly or recklessly using stealth, force, fear, or by attempting to instill fear to take immediate possession of someone's motor vehicle.

Armed Carjacking

An individual commits armed carjacking if, during the carjacking, they are armed with any type of gun, (rifle, machine gun, shotgun) real or fake, switchblade, razor, false knuckles, or any other kind of deadly/ dangerous weapon.

Possible Penalties

The actual penalties will depend on the specific facts of the case and include factors such as the defendant's criminal history, but generally the following penalties apply.

Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicles: Punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment.

Carjacking: Imprisonment up to 21 years.

Armed Carjacking: Imprisonment up to 40 years.

Possible Defenses

  • Mistake of fact
  • Consent
  • The defendant failed to return a motor vehicle for causes beyond their control (Note: the defendant has the burden of proof for this defense)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

District of Columbia Auto Theft Laws: Related Resources

Connect With an Attorney About D.C. Auto Theft Charges

If you've been accused of auto theft in the District of Columbia, then you should seek professional legal help. A criminal defense attorney will help with gathering information and can assess the evidence in your case to determine the best strategy for your defense.

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