Every state has its own laws regarding motor vehicle theft, including tampering and related offenses. In Missouri, the circumstances of the crime determine the applicable penalties, as described below.
Missouri's general theft statute makes it illegal to take someone else's property—including a motor vehicle or catalytic converter—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.
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 person who steals a catalytic converter faces a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
A repeat offender may face enhanced penalties. If the defendant steals a motor vehicle and committed two previous stealing-related offenses within 10 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 (2022).)
Missouri's law prohibiting tampering with another's property covers acts commonly referred to as joyriding. 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 in this situation. Unlawfully riding in another's vehicle falls under 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. However, if the person has a prior conviction for this offense or for stealing a motor vehicle, the penalty bumps up to a class D felony.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.002, 558.011, 569.080, 569.090 (2022).)
An individual commits the offense of vehicle hijacking (also known as carjacking) 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.
A defendant who commits vehicle hijacking under the following circumstances can be charged with a class A felony, punishable by imprisonment ranging from 10 to 30 years or life imprisonment. The defendant or another participant in the offense:
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 (2022).)
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.