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Use of a Vehicle Without Authority
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 24 encompasses a wide variety of motor vehicle crimes, one of which is using a vehicle without authority. This law states that if you use a motor vehicle without permission and if such use is unauthorized you are guilty of a crime. Prosecutors must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you of this crime in Massachusetts.
- The first element is that you used the vehicle. You can use a car by driving it or being a passenger in it while it is moving. An important aspect of “use” is the movement of the vehicle. Oftentimes people are arrested in stationary vehicles that are found to have been stolen. Simply being present in that vehicle will not satisfy the element of use.
- The second element that must be proved is that you used the car without the permission of the owner or someone who had the right to allow you to use it. Typically this is proved in court by putting the owner on the stand and having him testify that the defendant had no permission to use the vehicle.
- The third element that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that you knew that you were not permitted to use the car. This element becomes somewhat critical in cases where the passenger is charged with unauthorized use. Merely being present or in the car is not enough to support the prosecutor’s claim of knowledge. This is true even when the owner testifies that you had no right to be in the car. An example of this is when the passenger is a hitchhiker and gets picked up by someone he does not know.
Use without authority is a lesser included of the offense of larceny of a motor vehicle.
This crime is frequently defensible particularly in situations where the accused is a passenger in the car. A proper defense will frequently result in an acquittal, a dismissal of the charges or a disposition that will not require you to have a criminal record. Competent representation is the key to a successful result. In certain cases judges permit a form of hearsay as evidence of a defense. Where, for example the victim made statements to people suggesting that he permitted the defendants use of the car those out of court statements become admissible at trial. Technically, the out of court statement is viewed as non-hearsay if the defendant heard the statement and his actions were based on an understanding that his actions were permissive. Other times the victim’s statement is put before the jury during cross-examination in the form of impeachment with a prior inconsistent statement. Regardless, the statement will come in at trial.
Passengers often win these cases via motions to dismiss. The police report must demonstrate that the defendant knew that use of the car was not permitted. Absent statements or admissions this is difficult to prove and judges properly moved will not hesitate to dismiss the case.
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