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Man's Midnight 'Test Drive' Ends in Burglary Arrest

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 26, 2013 1:48 PM

A New Jersey man has been charged with burglary after taking a car for a test drive -- at midnight, long after the dealership had closed.

When David Fletcher, 44, went to a Kia dealership after midnight and saw that a shiny new 2014 Kia had keys in it, he allegedly "decided to take the vehicle for a test drive," police in Mount Olive, New Jersey, said in a statement, according to NJ.com.

So why is this an alleged burglary, despite Fletcher's claim that it was only a test drive?

Breaking and Entering

A burglary occurs when a person unlawfully enters into a structure with the intent to commit a crime.

As a general rule of thumb, you don't have to physically "break and enter," you just need to enter without permission. So moseying (or driving) onto a dealership's property during closed hours could suffice as entering without permission.

However, in some cases, breaking into a fenced-off area may not qualify as a burglary. Fletcher may be able to push back on the charge if he didn't have to actually enter a structure.

Intent to Commit a Crime

In order for a break-in to constitute a burglary, the person breaking in must have the intent to commit a crime inside the building. Usually, this crime is theft, but other crimes can render a break-in a burglary as well.

In this case, the alleged crime is an unlawful taking of a means of conveyance under New Jersey law. A person commits this crime when he or she takes, operates, or has control over something that belongs to someone else without consent or authorization.

Most importantly, a person can commit this crime even when he intends to temporarily withhold the property from its owner.

So technically, the test drive counts.

It's basically a joyriding law. You can't joyride in someone else's car without the owner's consent. (Duh.)

If Fletcher had entered the dealership intending to take the car and keep it forever, then this would be a case of auto theft -- a real-life grand theft auto.

On the other hand, if Fletcher really, truly thought he had permission to take the car for a spin at midnight, he could possibly use that as an affirmative defense. But it probably wouldn't work here, since the belief needs to be a reasonable one...

Perhaps Fletcher got Kia mixed up with Suzuki's ad campaign, which shows never-ending test drives that go well into the wee hours of the night? Whatever the reason, he'll now have to gear up for his upcoming court date.

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