Auto Theft Laws in Missouri

Stealing, joyriding in, or carjacking a vehicle carry stiff penalties. Learn about Missouri's vehicle theft-related laws and penalties.

By , Attorney

Every state has its own laws regarding motor vehicle theft, including joyriding and related offenses. In Missouri, the circumstances of the crime determine the applicable penalties, as described below.

Missouri Motor Vehicle Theft

Missouri's general theft statute makes it illegal to take someone else's property—including a motor vehicle—without their permission. To be convicted of motor vehicle theft, the defendant must have taken another's vehicle (1) without the owner's consent or by means of deceit or coercion and (2) with the purpose of depriving the owner of the vehicle. Let's break down these elements.

"Depriving" the owner of the property includes withholding the property permanently, restoring the property only upon payment of a reward or some other compensation, or using or disposing of the property in a way that makes the owner unlikely to be able to recover it.

Taking a vehicle "without consent" or "by means of deceit or coercion" means the defendant took the car either without first getting the owner's permission or by using lies or threats to obtain permission. In the case of the latter, the prosecutor must show that the vehicle's owner actually relied on the defendant's lie or gave up the vehicle because of fear of the defendant's threats.

Without sufficient proof that the defendant committed each element of the crime, the prosecutor may secure a conviction for some other crime (such as joyriding) but not motor vehicle theft.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 570.010, 570.030 (2020).)

Motor Vehicle Theft Penalties

In Missouri, stealing a motor vehicle is a class D felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to seven years, or both.

A repeat offender may face enhanced penalties. If the defendant steals a motor vehicle and committed two previous stealing-related offenses within ten years of the current offense, the penalty increases to a class B felony. The penalty for such an offense is imprisonment ranging from five to 15 years.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.002, 558.011, 570.030 (2020).)

Tampering ("Joyriding"): Crime and Penalty

Although the Missouri statutes do not use the term joyriding, the law still prohibits the offense under the crime of tampering with another's property, which includes motor vehicles.

Tampering means to knowingly receive, possess, sell, or unlawfully operate or ride in a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. To get a conviction, the prosecution only has to prove the defendant was driving or even simply riding in a vehicle without permission from the owner. Tampering differs from stealing in that it doesn't require intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle.

The driver in the joyriding situation commits tampering in the first degree, a class D felony, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to seven years, or both. A passenger can also face charges of tampering in the second degree, which is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.002, 558.011, 569.080, 569.090 (2020).)

Vehicle Hijacking ("Carjacking"): Crime and Penalty

An individual commits the offense of vehicle hijacking when they knowingly use or threaten to use physical force on another person in order to take or try to take control of a motor vehicle from another person.

Class A Felony

A defendant who commits vehicle hijacking under the following circumstances can be charged with a class A felony, punishable by imprisonment ranging from ten to 30 years or life imprisonment. The defendant or another participant in the offense:

  • causes serious physical injury to any person in immediate possession, control, or presence of the vehicle
  • is armed with a deadly weapon
  • uses or threatens to use a dangerous instrument against any person
  • displays or threatens to use what appears to be a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, or
  • seizes or attempts to seize a vehicle, in which a child or special victim is present.

Class B Felony

In all other instances, vehicle hijacking is a class B felony, punishable by imprisonment ranging from five to 15 years.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.011, 570.027 (2020).)

Failure to Return a Rental Car: Crime and Penalty

Missouri also makes it a crime to fail to return leased or rented property, including vehicles. This crime occurs when the defendant:

  • purposely fails to return a leased or rented vehicle according to the lease or rental agreement (or contract)
  • unlawfully sells, takes a loan against, or pawns the rental vehicle to someone else
  • returns the rental vehicle but does not pay for its as contracted, or
  • hides a rental vehicle (or helps someone else hide it) with the intent to keep the owner from legally retrieving it.

A person who fails to return a leased or rented vehicle commits a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. However, if the vehicle has a value of $750 or more, the offender can face up to seven years in prison and a $10,000 fine, a class D felony.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.002, 558.011, 570.057 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

Consult a qualified criminal defense attorney who practices in your area if you have been charged with a motor vehicle theft-related crime or if you have questions about your state laws.

While legal information, such as that contained in this article, is useful to better understand what the law says and how it might apply, only an attorney can review the unique facts of your case and give you advice about how to proceed.

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