Joyriding Is a Serious Crime in New Jersey

Auto theft and joyriding are viewed as two different crimes in New Jersey – but both are illegal and are punishable offenses for which you should consult a criminal defense lawyer. Auto theft is frequently used to describe a whole host of statutorily prescribed offenses related to the theft or unlawful taking of an automobile. A person who steals a car does not intend to return it to the owner. In contrast, joyriding is taking a car without intending to keep it.

Did You Have Consent?

A common defense to the charge of joyriding is consent. If the owner of the car permitted the defendant’s use of the car, then there is no crime according to NJ law. Though, the fact that the owner has previously permitted the defendant to drive the car is not enough to establish consent. The relevant question, in a prosecution for the crime, is whether the owner consented to the defendant’s use of the car on that particular occasion.

The Biggest Difference: Intent

In New Jersey, joyriding (also referred to as unauthorized use of a vehicle) is taking or operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The temporary nature of the taking is what distinguishes this crime from auto theft. For example, joyriding can include taking someone’s car or motorcycle without permission, with the intention of just using it for a while. Joyriding charges can also be brought for taking a boat or even a bicycle without the owner’s permission. No matter the length of time taken, a reputable criminal defense lawyer will tell you that it is still very much a crime and you could still be charged with a violation of N.J.S.A.2C:20-10.

When an automobile is taken with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle then that charge is considered theft by unlawful taking. The charge of auto theft falls under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, New Jersey’s Theft by Unlawful Taking Law.


In New Jersey, joyriding is a fourth-degree crime with maximum penalties of 18 months in prison and a $7,500 fine. A passenger can also be charged and held just as responsible as the driver. If other violations, such is reckless driving, property damage, or injury to, or endangering other people occur while joyriding, the charges can be upgraded to the third degree. In this case, joyriding may be punishable by three to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum $7,500 fine. The law also allows prosecutors to hold parents accountable who fail to supervise a child who steals a car.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

Theft is an indictable criminal offense in New Jersey. If you are charged with joyriding or auto theft, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Villani & DeLuca, P.C. to discuss your case. Call 732-965-3350 for a free initial consultation. Villani & DeLuca attorneys take pride in providing each client personal attention and the most effective representation throughout Monmouth County and Ocean County.