Missouri has a new law that makes carjacking a crime, after push by Gregory

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, left, greets a member of the public and her dog at a food distribution event at Mehlville High School hosted by Gregory and Rep. Jim Murphy Sept. 3, 2020.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Missouri officially has a law on the books that establishes the crime of vehicular hijacking for carjacking crimes, passed by the Missouri General Assembly this legislative session as part of a broader crime bill after efforts last year by Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills.

Senate Bill 600, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, is an omnibus crime bill that defines dangerous felonies, outlines offenses not eligible for probation, creates the offense of vehicle hijacking and addresses criminal street gang activity.

“It’s outstanding — the fight to get this passed was shorter than normal. This only took a couple of years versus some things that take 10 years,” said Gregory. “We’ve already seen it implemented … I like to see serious, dangerous crimes charged.”

Gregory, who was first elected as state representative in 2016, will face Democratic challenger Erica Hoffman in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 3. Gregory previously defeated Hoffman for the same position in 2018.

While SB 600 was not Gregory’s legislation, Gregory had previously worked on passing legislation that would have created the offense of vehicular hijacking. In 2019, the Gregory-sponsored House Bill 966 that would have specifically made carjacking a chargeable crime made it out of the House and to the Senate, where it ultimately died. However, that bill had the support of key elected officials such as Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Gregory also sponsored a similar bill this year in the House, House Bill 1873, but because of the abbreviated legislation session due to the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, many pieces of legislation were combined with other pieces of legislation in “omnibus” bills so more laws could be debated and quickly pass or fail.

“A lot of people who are in law enforcement are concerned about the rise of carjackings. … Carjackings are becoming much more common, especially with a person involved and a lot of times these people also have vulnerable people with them. It’s been a big motivator to crack down on crimes,” said Gregory on why he had initially pursued legislation for the issue. “It was a team effort to get passed.”

According to SB 600, vehicle hijacking is committed when a person “knowingly uses or threatens the use of physical force upon another person to seize or attempt to seize possession or control of vehicle.”

The bill makes the crime a Class B felony but can be upgraded to a Class A felony in instances where serious physical harm is caused, if the hijacker is armed with a deadly weapon, if the hijacker threatens or uses a dangerous instrument or if a vehicle is seized when a child or “special victim” is present.

“I think it’s important that people understand that this type of legislation are only tools in the toolbox and not the only solution,” said Gregory. “We are continuing to push forward on the fight against violent crime by … increasing the visibility of law enforcement, increasing law enforcement relationships and reputation, organic growth of the economy, better-paying jobs to keep people and kids off the streets …”

South County saw its first crime charged as vehicle hijacking in August when a man and woman were charged with murder after they tried to carjack a man at the Classic Car Wash on Lemay Ferry Road, but the victim shot and killed their 18-year-old accomplice in self-defense, according to police accounts. In addition to the murder charge, the man and woman were also charged with armed criminal action, vehicle hijacking and various other felonies.

Prior to the passage of SB 600, Missouri was one of 27 states without a specific carjacking statute. With the legislation, Missouri joins nearby states such as Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee that have carjacking charges with felony penalties on the books.

“People shouldn’t have to live in an unsafe environment,” said Gregory, who plans to continue prioritizing the fight against crime. “Everyone deserves to raise a family in a safe environment.”