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50 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 132 (1959-1960)
Automobile Theft

handle is hein.journals/jclc50 and id is 144 raw text is: 


                                LEONARD D. SAVITZ

  The author is a member of the staff of the Department of Sociology in the University of Pennsyl-
vania. He has published an article on Capital Crime as Defined in American Statutory Law in our
Volume 46 (September-October, 1955), and another on A Study in Capital Punishment in Volume
49 (November-December, 1958.)-EDITOIZ.

   A. THE NATURE OF AUTO THEF' (1, 11, 12)
   The necessary first step in any discussion of auto
theft in the United States is to become aware of
certain legalistic peculiarities in American law as
they apply to the crime of theft. The common law
definition of larceny (or theft) hias, historically,
come to include in it an element of attempted, or
actual, permanent deprivation of the rightful
owner of his chattel. A major legal problem, there-
fore, arose in the past, as to whether an individual
who only borrowed someone's car for joy-
riding purposes could be classified as a thief. Not
infrequently the accused, after convincing the
court that he did not intend to keep or sell the
car or, indeed, was returning it to its rightful
owner when apprehended, was found not to have
violated existing larceny statutes and was set free.
Thus in one precedent case2 the appellate court
decided that the trial court had been without
fault in finding joy-riding a non-criminal action
because of a lack of intent to permanently deprive
the owner of his car. Only by a new, broadened,
statutory definition of larceny, or, as more fre-
quently occurred, the creation of a new criminal
offense: operating a car without the consent of
the owner-could the courts deal adequately with
this type of behavior. It must be noted that this
has been rather peculiarly a state problem. The
federal law dealing with auto theft, the National
Motor Vehicle Theft Act (also known as the
Dyer Act) while encompassing those who
.. . transport in interstate commerce, a motor
vehicle knowing the same to be stolen, is suffi-
ciently omnibus as to embrace the act of joy-
riding. Much has been made of the very wide
area of activity covered by this act and recently
(28) there have been vehement demands to more
  1 Digits, 1 to 32 inclusive and enclosed in parentheses,
refer to fully cited, pertinent items listed in the bibli-
ography. (S-1) and the like refer to Serials which are
listed following the General Bibliography.
  2 Impson v. State, 47 Ariz. 573 (1930.)

narrowly restrict this offense within the federal

   The Uniform Crime Report for 1956 (S-5) shows
an estimated 250,000 cars stolen for that year. The
same source of data (S-4) reveals that of all auto
thefts known to the police for the first six months
of 1956, 29.2 percent were cleared by arrest (Figure
4), while 23.3 percent of the auto thefts known to
the police resulted in someone's being charged
(held for prosecution) for the crime. Of this 23.2
percent charged, 63.7 percent were found guilty,
though not all for the crime of auto theft. Thus,
there were 56,735 auto thefts known to the police,
leading to 15,132 arrests, which resulted in 12,239
persons being charged with some crime, of whom
7,766 were convicted. However, only 6,886 were
guilty of auto theft, the remainder were convicted
for some other offense.
  In 1946, auto thieves made up 21.8 percent of all
federal prisoners (S-2, Table 12) and they were the
single largest group of criminals in federal prisons.
The Senate Interim Report (28) concluded that
this high auto theft imprisonment rate was due
to excessive convictions'under the Dyer Act;
that the prohibition on transporting cars across
state lines was not meant to cover joy-riding
juveniles; and that many youngsters mis-
appropriate cars with no intent to steal.

  From 1955 to 1956, autotheft increased in the
United States by over 16 percent (S-4) and this
was the second greatest increase in Part I (serious
crimes). The secretary of the National Auto
Theft Bureau, testifying before the Senate Sub-
committee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency
(hereafter referred to simply as the Senate Sub-
committee) stated that in 1949 there were 44.6

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