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New Mississippi laws raise the stakes...

New Mississippi laws raise the stakes on vehicle theft, participating in shoplifting

By: Jeremy Pittari - May 13, 2024

  • Critics say the laws will increase the state’s prison population as well as state spending without making communities safer.

Two bills have been signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves (R) that will lead to stiffer penalties for stealing a vehicle and those indirectly involved in shoplifting of $1,000 or more in merchandise. 

Senate Bill 2174, authored by State Senator Joey Fillingane (R), makes it a felony to steal another person’s vehicle, or to steal vehicles from businesses where the sale, storage or rental of vehicles is part of their business model.

Senator Fillingane said the bill addresses issues shared by Marty Milstead, President of the Mississippi Automobile Dealers Association. Milstead told the Senator that dealers in larger cities such as Jackson have been hit during off hours, where the thieves break into a business, take a number of key fobs, and hit the buttons until they find the associated car on the lot to steal.

“It’s essentially a retail smash and grab, but it’s done instead with new vehicles,” Fillingane described.

The new law now makes the theft of a vehicle, regardless of its age or value, a felony.

Convictions for a first offense can lead to a sentence up to 15 years and/or a fine up to $10,000. A second conviction of the same crime can result in a sentence between 5 to 20 years and a fine up to $20,000. 

If the vehicle is stolen from a business that rents, sells or stores vehicles, the penalty can be between 10 to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $20,000.

Other property covered in the bill includes farm machinery, construction equipment, and all-terrain and off-road vehicles. 

While the bill was moving through legislative committees this session, there was discussion of enhancing the penalties based on the value of the vehicle. However, as the session wore on, that aspect was dropped. 

“The idea is that it’s my car, and this is the means by which I get to work, or to the hospital for an appointment, or to get my kids to school. Does it really matter if it’s a $5,000 clunker that gets me from point A to point B, or a $100,000 SUV? It doesn’t really matter to the individual who it belongs to. It still deprives me of my livelihood and my means of getting from point A to point B in life,” Filingane explained.

Meanwhile, HB 438, authored by State Representative Gene Newman (R), creates penalties for those who are indirectly involved in the crime of shoplifting that involves $1,000 or more in value. Shoplifting items totaling that amount is currently a felony. 

Rep. Newman said the new law focuses on incidents where several people will enter a business and while a few distract the clerk, others actually take items without paying. 

“They may not have picked anything up, but they are participating with those who are stealing to distract the clerks,” Newman explained.

Rep. Newman said the legislation can best be explained as something similar to the federal government’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, where co-conspirators face the same level of penalties as those directly involved. 

Penalties for those convicted of aiding and abetting a shoplifting crime will be the same as those who actually took the items, up to six months of jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offense. Second and third offenses lead to longer sentences and higher fines., an organization that has been pushing for criminal justice reforms, spoke out against the two measures. Mississippi State Director Alesha Judkins said her organization is disappointed to see the enactment of SB 2174 and HB 438, laws she said will “increase our state’s prison population and spending without making our communities safer.”

“Increasing penalties and making people serve longer sentences for property crimes goes against the overwhelming body of research that makes clear incarceration is one of the most expensive but least effective public safety strategies.,” said Judkins in a statement.

While Senator Fillingane believes in being tough on crime, he does see the benefit of giving someone a second chance when the crime was the result of a person suffering from an addiction. However, stealing someone’s method of transportation and preventing them from going to work is a different story, he said.

“I hope this sends a message to the criminal element in Mississippi thinking about working to steal a vehicle,” Fillingane said. “Maybe they should apply that same energy to getting a job. They’re plentiful right now.”

Rep. Newman said laws are made for a reason – to protect the law-abiding citizens. While large corporations can absorb some level of retail theft, most small family-owned businesses may have to shut down if they suffer a 10 percent loss during a fiscal year. 

“If you’re willing to do it, you got to take the penalty with it,” Newman added.

Both pieces of legislation take effect on July 1, 2024.

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics. Email Jeremy: