Auto Theft Laws in Louisiana

Motor vehicle theft, carjacking, and joyriding are serious crimes in Louisiana, and a conviction can result in a long prison sentence.

By , Attorney

Motor vehicle theft, carjacking, and joyriding are all serious crimes in Louisiana. In many cases, a conviction can result in a long prison sentence.

Motor Vehicle Theft

In Louisiana, a person commits the crime of motor vehicle theft by:

  • taking a motor vehicle that belongs to someone else, either without the owner's permission or by fraud, and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, or
  • taking control of a motor vehicle that the defendant knows or should know is stolen.

A person intends to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle if the person does not intend to return the car. For example, a person who breaks into someone else's car in a parking lot and drives away to a chop shop has committed theft. A person who poses as a mechanic to obtain a person's car keys and take their car has also committed theft.

Like many other states, Louisiana classifies motor vehicle thefts based on the value of the property stolen. The more valuable the stolen vehicle, the more severely the theft is punished. The penalties for motor vehicle theft line up with the general theft penalties. Theft of a vehicle valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor; all other vehicle theft crimes constitute felonies.

  • If the value of the vehicle is less than $1,000, the defendant faces up to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
  • If the value of the vehicle is $1,000 or more but less than $5,000, the defendant faces up to five years' imprisonment and a $3,000 fine.
  • If the value of the vehicle is $5,000 or more but less than $25,000, the defendant faces up to ten years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
  • If the value of the vehicle is $25,000 or more, the defendant faces up to 20 years' imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.

(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:67.26 (2020).)

Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (Joyriding)

A person commits the offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (often called joyriding) by taking or using a vehicle that belongs to someone else without permission (or by fraud) but without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. For example, a teenager who takes a friend's car without permission but intends to return the car could be convicted of joyriding. Joyriding is a felony and carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:68.4 (2020).)

Carjacking

Carjacking constitutes the most serious vehicle theft offense. Under Louisiana law, a person commits the crime of carjacking by taking a motor vehicle from an individual by use of force or intimidation. For example, a person (armed or unarmed) who forces a passenger out of a parked car and drives away has committed the crime of carjacking. Carjacking carries a two-year minimum prison sentence and a maximum 20-year prison sentence, without the opportunity for probation or parole. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:64.2 (2020).)

Other Motor Vehicle Theft Crimes

In addition to theft, joyriding, and carjacking, the following vehicle theft-related offense are felonies in Louisiana.

Altering Vehicle Identification Numbers

It's a felony to alter, remove, or destroy a vehicle identification number (VIN) or any distinguishing number or marking on a vehicle, vehicle part, semi-trailer, or trailer, intending to conceal or misrepresent the vehicle's identity. For instance, it would be a crime for a chop shop to alter a vehicle's VIN to conceal the vehicle was stolen. A first offense carries a two-year prison sentence, a second offense carries a three-year prison sentence, and a third or subsequent offense carries a four-year prison sentence. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:207 (2020).)

Failing to Return a Rental Car

Louisiana law also criminalizes failing to return a rental car at the end of the rental agreement or using a false name or address to rent a car. The penalty is a five-year felony subject to a $500 fine. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:220 (2020).)

Enhanced Penalties

Repeat offenders in Louisiana face harsh enhanced penalties.

Misdemeanor vehicle theft. A conviction for misdemeanor vehicle theft (vehicle valued at less than $1,000) increases to a felony if the offender has two or more prior theft convictions. In this case, instead of the typical six-month sentence, the offender may receive a sentence of imprisonment of not more than two years, a fine of not more than $2,000, or both.

Habitual felony offender. A second or subsequent felony offense carries stiff enhanced penalties. The enhanced sentence depends on the number of prior felonies committed within the past five or 10 years and, in some cases, the type of felony (such as a violent felony—carjacking is a violent felony).

(La. Rev. Stat. §§ 14:67.26; 15:529.1 (2020).)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

A conviction for motor vehicle theft, carjacking, or joyriding can result in a long prison sentence and a serious criminal record. If you are charged with a crime, you should talk to a Louisiana criminal defense attorney about your case as soon as possible. An experienced local attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to protect your rights.

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