Is Stealing License Plates A Felony?

The license plate theft in Colorado is classified as a class 2 misdemeanor, as per Colorado Revised Statutes Section 42-5-104. This statute specifies that knowingly removing, detaching, or taking a license plate from another’s motor vehicle, or aiding in such acts, constitutes theft of a license plate. Therefore, stealing a license plate in Colorado is not categorized as a felony but as a misdemeanor offense. 

Understanding License Plate Theft

License plate theft is a crime where individuals steal vehicle license plates, often to disguise another vehicle’s registration status. It’s usually treated as a form of larceny, with charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the value of the stolen item and specific state laws. For example, in Ohio, removing a License Plate frame without permission is a felony, while in other states, it might be a lesser charge.

Stealing license plates is legally treated as larceny, with varying degrees of severity based on location. It’s generally a misdemeanor for items of low value, like in New York for thefts under $200. However, some states, such as Ohio, categorize it as a felony. The seriousness of the charge can also depend on whether the plates are considered state property or records, influencing the legal implications significantly​​​​​​.

License Plate Theft vs. Misdemeanor Offenses

License plate theft, while a specific type of larceny, often falls under misdemeanor offenses in many jurisdictions. This classification typically applies when the stolen item’s value is relatively low, as is the case with license plates. However, the exact charge can vary by state. Some regions might treat it as a more serious crime, potentially elevating it to a felony, especially if the plates are deemed state property or records. The distinction between license plate theft and general misdemeanor offenses lies in the context and value of the theft​​​​​​.

Consequences of License Plate Theft

The consequences of license plate theft can vary by jurisdiction but typically include legal repercussions such as misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the value of the stolen plates and state laws. In some areas, if the plates are considered state property, the offense could be more severe. Additionally, license plate theft may lead to further legal complications for both the thief and the vehicle owner, including potential involvement in other crimes committed using the stolen plates​​​​​​.

Preventing License Plate Theft

Prevention MethodDescriptionEffectiveness
Anti-Theft ScrewsSpecial screws that are difficult to remove without specific tools.Highly Effective
Protective CoversCovers that shield the license plate, making removal more challenging.Moderately Effective
Security AlarmsAlarms that trigger when the license plate is tampered with.Highly Effective
Surveillance CamerasInstalling cameras near where the vehicle is parked to monitor activity.Highly Effective
Regular InspectionsFrequently checking your license plates for tampering or looseness.Moderately Effective
Parking in Secure AreasChoosing well-lit, secure locations for parking to deter theft.Moderately Effective
Reporting Suspicious ActivityReporting any suspicious behavior around vehicles to authorities.Varies Community-Dependent

Reporting Stolen License Plates

If your license plates are stolen, you should immediately report the theft to the local police. This helps in preventing any illegal activities that might be conducted using your plates. Additionally, notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to request new plates and inform them of the theft. This is crucial as it helps in dissociating yourself from any crimes or violations associated with your stolen plates. It’s also advisable to avoid driving your vehicle without plates to prevent legal issues​​.

Investigating License Plate Theft Cases

Investigating license plate theft cases typically involves law enforcement tracking the stolen plates, often using surveillance footage or eyewitness accounts. Police may also check for fingerprints or other forensic evidence on the vehicle. In some cases, they monitor for the plates’ use in traffic violations or crimes. Collaboration with the DMV helps in tracking any illegal attempts to register or use the stolen plates. The complexity of these investigations varies, depending on the resources and technology available to the law enforcement agencies involved​​.

Common Motivations Behind License Plate Theft

Common motivations behind license plate theft include the desire to disguise a vehicle’s identity, often for committing other crimes like theft or avoiding tolls and traffic violations. Thieves may also steal license plates to sell them, especially if they are from unique or desirable series. In some cases, individuals might steal plates to replace their own expired or unregistered plates, thereby avoiding registration fees or penalties. These motivations highlight the broader issue of criminal activity and evasion of law enforcement detection​​.

Protecting Your License Plate

Protecting Your License Plate

To protect your license plate, consider these measures.

  • Anti-Theft Screws: Use special screws that are difficult to remove without specific tools. They are a strong deterrent against quick theft attempts.
  • Protective Covers: Install covers that make accessing and removing the license plate more challenging.
  • Regular Inspections: Frequently check your license plates for signs of tampering or looseness.
  • Parking in Secure Areas: Choose well-lit and secure parking spots to reduce the risk of theft.
  • Surveillance Cameras: If feasible, install cameras near your parking area to monitor any suspicious activity.
  • Vigilance and Reporting: Be vigilant about your surroundings and report any suspicious behavior near vehicles to the authorities.

Public Awareness on License Plate Felonies

Raising public awareness about license plate theft and its legal implications as felonies in certain circumstances is crucial. Education campaigns often focus on the seriousness of the crime and its potential consequences, such as misdemeanor or felony charges.

These initiatives highlight the importance of reporting stolen plates promptly to prevent misuse and legal complications. Awareness programs also emphasize preventive measures like using anti-theft screws and secure parking. By informing the public about the legal and practical aspects of license plate theft, authorities aim to reduce its occurrence and encourage proactive community involvement​​​​​​.

What To Do If My License Plate Was Stolen

If your license plate is stolen, you should:

  • Report to the Police: Immediately file a police report. Provide them with your license plate number and any other relevant details. This is important for documenting the theft and absolving you from responsibility for any illegal activities involving your stolen plate.
  • Contact the DMV: Inform the Department of Motor Vehicles about the theft. They will issue new license plates and may provide temporary documentation.
  • Avoid Driving: Try not to drive the vehicle until it has new plates to avoid legal issues.
  • Increase Security: Consider implementing anti-theft measures for your new plates, such as special screws or protective covers.
  • Monitor for Misuse: Keep an eye on any traffic or parking violations you might receive, as these could be linked to your stolen plates.
  • Inform Insurance: Notify your auto insurance company of the theft, especially if it’s part of a larger vehicle-related crime.

If someone steals your license plates, do you report it to the police?

Yes, if someone steals your license plates, you should report it to the police immediately. When reporting, provide them with your license plate number, vehicle description, and any other pertinent information. This creates an official record of the theft and is crucial for dissociating yourself from any illegal activities that might involve your stolen plates. After reporting to the police, you should also notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to deactivate the stolen plates and issue new ones. This dual approach ensures both legal and administrative measures are taken to address the theft and mitigate its potential consequences​​.

What is the penalty for stealing a license plate

The penalty for stealing a license plate varies by jurisdiction. In some states, it is considered a misdemeanor, especially if the value of the stolen item is low. For example, in New York, thefts under $200 are treated as misdemeanors. However, in states like Ohio, license plate theft can be classified as a felony. 

The specific penalty depends on factors such as the value of the stolen plates, whether they are considered state property, and the thief’s criminal history. In general, penalties can range from fines and community service to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the charge and local laws.

Can I drive my car if my license plate was stolen

It is generally not advisable to drive a car if its license plate has been stolen. Driving without a license plate can lead to traffic stops and potential legal issues, as license plates are required for vehicle identification and proof of registration. After a theft, you should report the incident to the police and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as soon as possible. The DMV can issue temporary documentation or new plates. Until you have legal replacement plates or temporary documentation, it’s best to avoid driving the vehicle to prevent complications​​.


Do Anti Theft License Plate Screws Work?

Yes, anti-theft license plate screws are effective as they require a specialized tool for removal, deterring theft​​​​.

Can License Plate Theft Result In Misdemeanor Charges?

Yes, license plate theft can result in misdemeanor charges, depending on the state laws and value of the stolen plates​​.

How Do I Report A Stolen License Plate In California?

Report it to the police and then notify the California DMV for replacement plates​​.

Legal consequences can include misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the jurisdiction and specifics of the theft​​​​​​.


In Colorado, license plate theft is a class 2 misdemeanor under Colorado Revised Statutes Section 42-5-104. This crime, generally treated as larceny, varies in severity depending on the state. While a misdemeanor in some states for low-value items, it can be a felony in others, like Ohio. 

Legal consequences depend on the plates’ perceived value and whether they are considered state property. Prevention measures include anti-theft screws, protective covers, and surveillance. If stolen, report to the police and DMV immediately. Public awareness and security measures are key in addressing and preventing license plate theft.

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