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Joyriding vs. Auto Theft

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Despite common belief, joyriding and auto theft are entirely different crimes. Please continue reading to find out what makes them different from one another and how Wisconsin views these crimes in court. Hint: the difference is based on intent.

What Is Joyriding?

According to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, Joyriding can be legally defined as taking a car and driving it without the intent of keeping the vehicle. For example, if a teenager sneaks out one night and uses their parent’s car without permission, they have committed a joyriding crime.

Auto Theft

The crime is considered auto theft when someone steals a car and does not intend to return it. For example, someone who steals a car from a parking lot without intent to return it and takes it to a shop to get the exterior modified so it is not recognizable, has committed auto theft.

Joyriding vs. Auto Theft In Terms Of Penalties

The state of Wisconsin does not really recognize the difference between these two offenses. Both are penalized very harshly. Section 943.23(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, stating, “…Whoever intentionally takes and drivers any vehicle without the owner’s consent is guilty of the following:” a first offense a Class H felony. A second or subsequent offense is a Class G felony. Even if you are not the individual who initially took the vehicle from its owner, you are still subject to a penalty. The driver still faces criminal liabilities.

An Example Of A Joyriding Charge

The State v. Robbins, 43 Wis.2d 478, 168 N.W. 544 in 1969 dealt with an issue where the driver was not the person who initially stole the vehicle. In this case, the defendant’s uncle took the car from a car dealership. The defendant was eventually arrested for driving the vehicle and charged with auto theft. The court stated that “the statutory language ‘intentionally takes and drives any vehicle without the owner’s consent does not require that the driver of the stolen vehicle be the person who took the vehicle from the rightful owner.”

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