A key element of any theft offense is an intention on the part of the accused to permanently deprive the owner of his/her property. The situation is no different when the item is a car, boat, or other form of motor vehicle. Nonetheless, an individual may be prosecuted for joyriding.
The term “joyriding” is used to describe a situation where someone temporarily takes possession and/or uses the car, automobile or other motor vehicle of another. The key distinction between joyriding and car theft is the fact that the former involves someone whose intention is limited to temporary use. When the offense is joyriding, which is essentially a form of receiving stolen property, the penalties outlined in N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.1 for stealing an automobile do not apply.
Joyriding is typically graded as a fourth degree crime that can result in up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The charge is enhanced, however, to a third degree crime where the conduct of the accused creates a risk of injury to person or property. When this is the case, an involved can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and fined $15,000.
As you might imagine, a common defense in car theft cases is that the defendant lacked an intention to permanently deprive the owner of his/her vehicle.