JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Creating a specific offense for vehicle hijacking had some lawmakers raising objections to, what they called, “harsh” penalties.
During the perfection of HB 966, Democrats voiced their opposition to the proposal and one representative went so far as to question the motives behind it.
Rep. Bruce Franks, Jr. recounted his personal story of being carjacked and said he argued for a lesser penalty at the sentencing of the 19-year-old who committed the crime. He said this bill will not be a deterrent.
“They aren’t thinking of the penalties,” said Franks.
Opponents argued that making vehicle hijacking the same as first-degree murder is “too harsh” and “ridiculous.”
Bill sponsor Rep. David Gregory countered the claim that the penalties are too harsh. He noted they are in line with similar offenses. For instance, armed burglary is a first-degree felony — the same as armed vehicle hijacking.
Gregory noted a class B offense, if the judge so chooses, could not result in any jail time. He went on to argue that a specific offense to charge the crime will help local prosecutors and, ideally, help address the “very serious” issue.
Currently, Missouri has no state law that specifically makes it a crime for hijacking a motor vehicle. Thus, those prosecuting the offense are forced to use other statutes that may not reflect the significance of the crime, according to stakeholders.
Under the proposal, vehicle hijacking would be if a person knowingly uses or explicitly or implicitly threatens the use of physical force upon another person to seize or attempt to seize possession of a vehicle from another person.
The crime would be considered a class B felony. If the person hijacking a vehicle uses a deadly weapon, causes serious injury to another person, or the victim is a protected person, then the offense would be a class A felony.
The measure needs another vote by the House before making its way to the Senate.
Gregory partnered with Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt on the legislation. This is not the first time the Republican lawmaker has teamed up with the state’s top legal officer.
During the 2018 session, Gregory and then-Attorney General Josh Hawley worked on legislation giving the attorney general’s office subpoena power in Sunshine Law violation investigations. The measure did not cross the finish line and did not resurface this year.