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Maryland Auto Theft Laws

Auto theft may not seem like a common occurrence, but statistics show that in Maryland a car is stolen every 40 minutes. Of the total number of stolen vehicles in the state, 50 percent had the keys inside and 60 percent were left unlocked. It may be hard to imagine someone leaving keys inside their car or their doors unlocked, but keep in mind that not all auto theft involves breaking into vehicles. It can also happen even among relatives or members of the same household.

Auto Theft Defined

In Maryland, auto theft is defined as the knowing and willful taking of a motor vehicle out of the owner's lawful custody, control or use without the owner's consent. The last part is important because consent to use a vehicle is not always provided expressly in a signed form. Instead, it can be based on a verbal communication (which can be misunderstood) or on a prior course of conduct like a babysitter who has been allowed to take out the family car to pick kids up from school. Consent can even be given after the fact, also called ratification, such as when a stranger takes your car to help in a medical emergency.

It's also important to note that the "owner" of a vehicle can refer to the person who actually owns the vehicle or someone who is lawfully in possession of the vehicle even if his or her name is not on the title. So, for example, it's sufficient if you receive consent from your friend to drive her vehicle even if it is actually owned by her parents.

Maryland Auto Theft Laws: An Overview

For more information on specific Maryland auto theft laws, see the chart below.


Maryland Criminal Code Section 7-104 (theft generally)

Maryland Criminal Code Section 7-105 (motor vehicle theft)

Maryland Criminal Code Section 7-105.1 (authorizing affidavits of owners as substantive evidence)

Possible Penalties

Motor Vehicle Theft: This is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. In addition, the defendant is required to restore the motor vehicle or, if not possible, to pay the owner the full value of the vehicle.


Defenses include:

  • Mistake of fact (ownership)
  • Lack of intent
  • Coercion
  • Duress
  • Return of property
  • Ratification after the fact

For more information, see Theft Defenses

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.

Maryland Auto Theft Laws: Related Resources

Get Legal Help with Your Auto Theft Case in Maryland

If you've been charged under Maryland auto theft laws, your case could hinge on the question of whether you had the consent of the owner or possessor of the vehicle, something a prosecutor will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. With the possibility of a prison sentence and the costs of restoring or replacing a vehicle, you don't want to take any chances with your case. That's why you should enlist the help of an expert criminal defense attorney in Maryland today.

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