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Man Borrowed Friend's Car To Make Court Appearance, Arrested For Forgetting To Ask Permission First

According to a Philadelphia newspaper, a New Jersey man undertook a cost-benefit analysis and felt that it was better to borrow a friend's car and drive to a court hearing for drug charges instead of missing the court appearance and having a warrant issued. In most criminal cases, a person that has pending misdemeanor or felony charges is subject to conditions of bail, which often require a person to stay out of trouble, keep the court updated with a correct mailing address, and to appear in court when required. When a person fails to appear in court, the prosecutor often asks that a warrant be issued and that any monetary bail that was posted be forfeited to the government.

I can understand that the New Jersey man probably did not want to have a warrant issued for his failure to appear in court, and he also did not want to lose any money that was posted to secure his release, but stealing a car was probably not the best idea. On a technical basis, the man did not "steal" the vehicle. The article states that the man was arrested after he called the owner to advise that the car would soon be returned, so the man borrowed the car without permission as opposed to stealing it. Taking a car without consent means that the person still intended to return the car, whereas a theft of a car means that the thief intends to keep the vehicle.

In Pennsylvania, taking a car without the owner's permission falls under the Unauthorized Use of Automobile charge at 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3928. The charge is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor and thereby carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. Stealing a car, what many people call Grand Theft Auto, is considered Theft by Unlawful Taking in Pennsylvania under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3921. The charge is graded as a felony of the third degree has a maximum sentence of seven years in jail and a $15,000.00 fine.

Defense to Unauthorized Use of Automobile

I doubt that the New Jersey man thought this far ahead, but he may have felt that he had a defense to the Unauthorized Use charge. The law expressly provides that the man could raise as a defense that he "reasonably believed that the owner would have consented to the operation had he known of it." Factors such as whether or not the man had borrowed the car in the past and the closeness of the relationship between the friends would be important. Also, if the owner was not vehemently pushing for the prosecution of the charge, the police and district attorney may agree to dismiss the case.

While the owner may not want to pursue charges against his friend, the decision on whether the case is dismissed or the man is prosecuted for unauthorized use will be made by the district attorney. Many people do not understand that when the police are called, the matter is a criminal investigation, and it is up to the police and prosecutor whether or not charges are filed. The person who called the police cannot simply have the charges dismissed. If a person sues another person, that is a civil suit, and a civil suit can generally be terminated if the person bringing the suit, called the plaintiff, so chooses.

However, in a criminal case, the party bringing the case is the Commonwealth or government and not the victim or person who called the police. Because the government is the plaintiff, it is up to the government to decide if the prosecution moves forward. In many cases, the prosecutor will strongly consider the wishes of the victim, but domestic violence cases are the exception to the rule. In many domestic violence assault cases, the victim tells the police or prosecutor that he or she does not wish to assist in the prosecution and wants the case dismissed. Prosecutors are often unwilling to grant such requests and will issue subpoenas to force the victim to appear in court and testify. The moral of the story is that when criminal charges are filed, the victim does not control the case. The person charged needs to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney and hire that lawyer to get the best resolution.

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