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Have you been charged with embezzlement of a rental car?

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If you fail to return the vehicle at the end of your rental period, you could face criminal charges for stealing or embezzlement. 

A criminal conviction for theft or embezzlement can carry serious penalties, including incarceration, fines, and orders to pay restitution. A criminal conviction could follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult to obtain housing, work, or education.

If you have been charged with stealing or embezzling a rental vehicle, you need aggressive, knowledgeable legal representation in your corner. The Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys of Adras & Altig want to help you when you’ve been charged with a crime. We’re hard-nosed criminal defense attorneys who care about protecting your rights, freedom, and future when you have been charged with a crime in Las Vegas.

Our partners, Paul Adras and Steven Altig, take a team approach to handling your case so that you have the benefit of two experienced criminal defense attorneys with a track record of obtaining favorable outcomes for clients. Our track record is not about ego. We are solely focused on getting the best possible result for each of our clients.

Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation consultation to discuss your charges and to learn more about your rights and options.

Differences Between Grand Theft Auto and Embezzlement of a Vehicle

Nevada law differentiates between the basic crime of stealing a vehicle, typically called “grand theft auto” or “grand larceny of a vehicle,” and the crime of stealing a rental vehicle, which is typically classified as a form of embezzlement.

Grand theft auto involves a person intentionally stealing, taking, and carrying or driving away or otherwise removing a vehicle owned by another person.

On the other hand, embezzlement of a rental vehicle can occur whenever a person who has rented a vehicle willfully and intentionally fails to return the vehicle to the rental company or owner within 72 hours of the expiration of the rental agreement. Even if a person who fails to return a rental vehicle on time has no criminal intent to “steal” the vehicle, as they might have in the criminal offense of grand theft auto, the law infers that they have embezzled the rental vehicle.

Penalties for Keeping a Rental Car After Contract

Stealing a rental car is classified in Nevada as a felony, regardless of whether an individual is charged with grand theft auto or embezzlement of the vehicle. As of July 1, 2020, a first offense for criminally keeping a rental car after a contract is classified as a category C felony, which can result in a sentence of at least one-year imprisonment and up to a maximum term of 5 years, along with a fine of up to $10,000.

A second or subsequent offense of criminally keeping a rental car after the contract expires, within five years of the first offense, is classified as a category B felony, with a minimum sentence of one-year incarceration, up to a maximum term of six years, along with a fine of up to $5,000.

In addition to any term of incarceration and fine imposed by the court for a conviction, the court may also order an offender to pay restitution to the owner of the rental vehicle, which can cover losses such as the loss of rental income for the time the vehicle could not be rented out again, costs to repair any damage to the vehicle, or the value of the vehicle if it is totaled or destroyed.

What You Should Do If You Are Accused of Embezzlement

If you are accused of embezzling or stealing a rental vehicle, there are some things to remember and steps to take in order to protect your rights and put yourself in a good position to present a strong legal defense to your charges:

  1. Return the vehicle. If the vehicle is still in your possession, you should immediately return the vehicle to its rightful owner. Your charge of embezzlement may simply arise from a misunderstanding between you and the rental car’s owner. Keeping the vehicle any longer may only increase the damages you may have to pay to the owner in restitution if you are convicted of a crime, or in a civil lawsuit if you are found liable.
  2. Remain silent. Remember that when you are arrested or detained, you have the right to remain silent and to not answer any of law enforcement’s questions. Although you may believe that you can help your case by trying to explain yourself or clear up the situation, you should not offer any statements to police without first talking to a criminal defense attorney. Any statements you give to police can later be used against you at trial.
  3. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you believe you have been charged with a crime as part of a mix-up with the rental car company, you should talk to a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer and let them try to clear up the situation with the police and with the car rental company.
  4. Gather your rental paperwork. You should try to collect the paperwork from your rental. Your embezzlement charges may arise from a simple misunderstanding or error. For example, you may have called in to extend your rental. Or you may have returned the car on time, but the rental company lost it and marked it overdue. Having records to show that you were in lawful possession of the vehicle or returned the vehicle on time can help resolve your charges.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are questions we commonly receive about the theft of a rental car vehicle. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about your specific circumstances.

Who is responsible if a rental car is stolen?

If you are designated as the responsible driver on your rental contract, and you willfully or intentionally fail to return your rental vehicle on time to the owner or rental company, you may be held responsible for stealing the rental car. Of course, there may be other circumstances where you rented the vehicle but may not be held responsible if the car is later stolen. For example, another authorized driver on the rental contract may flee with the vehicle. Or you may ask someone else to return the vehicle, but they fail to do so. Or you may have the vehicle criminally stolen from you by someone else. In those cases, you would likely be found to lack the criminal intent to deprive the rental car owner of the vehicle and would likely not be held responsible for the vehicle’s theft.

Can I go to jail for not returning a rental car?

Yes. Nevada law imposes an inference of criminal embezzlement whenever a person willfully or intentionally fails to return a rental vehicle within 72 hours of the end of the rental contract. If you are later convicted of embezzlement of a rental vehicle or with another theft charge, you can be sentenced to a term of incarceration, potentially for no less than one year in jail or prison.

What is the common defense to criminal embezzlement charges?

You may have two primary defenses to a charge of criminal embezzlement of a rental vehicle. The first defense involves a lack of intent to steal. For example, if you rent a car, and a personal emergency arises that prevents you from returning the vehicle by the end of your rental period, you might argue that you did not have an intent to permanently deprive the owner or rental company of the vehicle. This defense can be tricky, since you may need to show that you intended to return the vehicle at your first available opportunity.

The second defense to criminal embezzlement charges is establishing that you had consent – or a good faith belief that you had consent – from the owner of the vehicle to remain in possession. This might occur, for example, if you call the car rental company and ask to extend your rental. You might have been mistaken in your good faith belief that your rental period was extended, or the car rental company may have made a record-keeping error and failed to update their system to reflect your extension, leading the company to list your car as overdue.

Am I legally responsible for any damage that happens to stolen rentals?

Yes. If you are convicted of grand theft auto or embezzlement of a rental vehicle, as part of your sentence the court can order you to pay restitution to the owner of the vehicle, which can cover the cost of repairing the damage you caused to the vehicle, or the value of the vehicle if you totaled the car. Alternatively, the rental car’s owner may file a civil lawsuit against you to recover the costs of the damages you caused, under the tort of trespass to property or conversion.

Get Legal Help If You’ve Been Charged with Stealing a Rental Car

If you or a loved one have been charged with stealing a rental car, you need dedicated, experienced legal representation on your side. Criminal charges for stealing a rental car can lead to significant punishments, including jail time, fines, restitution, and the lifelong stigma of a criminal record.

Your freedom and future are too important. Let the Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys of Adras & Altig advocate for your rights and freedom. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation to discuss your legal rights and options and to learn more about how our firm can help you with your charges.

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