Auto Theft Laws in Missouri

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

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 a vehicle owned by someone other than the defendant with the purpose of depriving the owner of the vehicle, and without the owner’s consent or by means of deceit or coercion. This definition is discussed below.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.030.)

Motor Vehicle Theft Elements

There are four parts that make up the definition of motor vehicle theft. In legal jargon, these parts are called “elements,” and must all be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or admitted to by the defendant) before a conviction can occur.

In other words, 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.

Appropriation of a motor vehicle

The first element is “appropriation,” which means to take, obtain, use, transfer, conceal or retain possession of a motor vehicle. This element may be satisfied whether or not the owner was present at the time that the defendant took the car.

Owned by another

The second element requires that the motor vehicle was not owned by the defendant at the time of the offense.

Intent to deprive owner of the vehicle

The third element—intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle—means that the defendant took the vehicle with no intent of ever returning it, or intended to use or dispose of the vehicle in a manner that would make recovery by its owner unlikely (such as selling the vehicle or using it for scrap).

Without consent or by means of deceit or coercion

The last element requires that the defendant took the car either without first getting the owner’s permission, or after getting permission based on a lie or threats to commit a crime or cause harm.

If this element is satisfied by proof of deceit or coercion, 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.

For example, if the owner knew the defendant was lying when he said he’d return the car in an hour, and in fact knew that the defendant was going to skip town, but allowed the defendant take the car anyway, this element would not be satisfied.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.030.)

Punishment

In Missouri, stealing a motor vehicle is a Class C felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in jail, or both; or up to seven years in prison.

To learn more about sentencing in Missouri, see Missouri Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences and Missouri Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle (Joyriding)

Missouri has no specific statute pertaining to unlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to return it (also called “joyriding”). However, if you cause damage to the vehicle while it is in your possession (or because of something that happens because of the joyriding), you may face charges for property damage. Penalties will vary according to the type of damage and the circumstances of your crime. To learn more about this crime, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?

Failure to Return a Rental Car

Failure to return a rental car in Missouri is criminalized under the state’s statute on failing to return leased or rented property.

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 use according to the contract; or hides a rental vehicle (or helps someone else hide it) with the intent to keep the owner from legally retrieving it.

In addition to a conviction for failure to return, a defendant who destroys a rental vehicle so as to avoid returning it to the owner is may also be charged with property damage.

One exception to the law exists for a defendant in possession of a vehicle with a defect that renders it inoperable, so long as the defendant notifies the owner before the time when the vehicle is supposed to be returned (or within ten days after the defendant gets notice that the vehicle must be returned to the owner).

Stealing a leased or rented vehicle is a class A misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of up to $1,000, up to a year in jail, or both. However, if the vehicle has a value of one thousand dollars or more, the offense is a class C felony (penalties described above).

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 578.150.)

Talk to a Lawyer

Consult a qualified criminal defense attorney who practices in your area if you have been charged with motor vehicle theft or a 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 or your case and give you advice about how to proceed.

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