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Indiana Auto Theft Laws

We’ve seen it in movies and in video games where criminal masterminds are speeding through the streets of fictional cities such as Liberty City or San Andreas. While this all seems like fun and games when playing it on your big screen television, in reality stealing a car is a major felony offense and can land you in prison – especially in Indiana where auto theft laws are stringent and penalties are significant. So next time you or your buddies think about stealing that Honda Civic, think again.

Elements of Auto Theft

The basic elements of car theft are pretty standard in most states. In order to prove the defendant guilty of car theft, the Indiana district attorney must prove that that defendant took or drove a vehicle that belonged to someone else, without the owner’s permission, and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the car. Simply put, the defendant took a car without permission and never planned to return it. Ever.

Possible Defenses to Auto Theft

Aside from the typical mistaken identity defense (a.k.a. “it wasn’t me”), there are several other possible defenses to car theft in Indiana. First, the defendant may claim that he or she simply lacked the requite intent to commit the crime. If a person drives away in a car, but claims they were just taking it “for a spin,” but really intended to return it to the owner later, that can be considered “joyriding,” a much less serious offense than stealing cars.

The other possibility is that the defendant had consent to drive the car from the owner. Many times this situation arises in family disputes where a parent is angry that their child “took the car,” because they only gave their son or daughter permission to use the vehicle on one or two occasions, but the child took advantage of that generosity and used the car at a different time. This defense can be very fact-specific and will require the help of an attorney.

Indiana Auto Theft Laws Overview

The following table provides a basic overview of Indiana’s auto theft laws and penalties. Keep in mind, there may be several defenses available to you depending on the circumstances of your case.


  • Indiana Code Section 35-43-4-2.5 (Auto Theft)
  • Indiana Code Section 35-43--4-3 (Joyriding/ Criminal Conversion)


  • Auto Theft: Level 6 felony, up to two and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the defendant has prior conviction, automatically a Level 5 felony with up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
  • Joyriding: Class A misdemeanor, up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Note: Any acts alleged to have occurred prior to the June 30, 2014 are sentencing under the old sentencing scheme. Speak to a lawyer to learn more.

Failure to Rent a Rental Car

  • If a person fails to return a rental car, it can be charged as a Level 6 felony with the above-mentioned penalties.

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.

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about Indiana auto theft laws, click on the following links below:  

Accused of Car Theft? Get Help From a Defense Lawyer

Stealing a car is a big deal and comes with huge repercussions. But remember, the prosecutor ultimately has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime and demonstrate every element. Whether your defense is “joy riding” or something else let an experienced Indiana criminal defense attorney assist you with your case. 

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