Joyriding means taking a car that belongs to someone else, without that person’s permission, but with the intention of returning it. Although the car’s owner might disagree, the intention to return it makes joyriding usually just a misdemeanor rather than a felony such as stealing a car, where the intention is not to return it. A joyriding example might be a teenager who sneaks out one night and takes his father’s brand new car for a ride and returns it at 3 a.m. to find his irate parent standing in the garage. He may lose his driving privileges for a month, but he likely won’t go to jail. A car stealing example is a thief who takes a car that isn’t his, is caught, and is charged with grand theft auto. He has committed a felony and will likely go to jail.


In some U.S. states, joyriding is called, and tried as, a lesser-induced offense of car theft. In those states, the only difference between joyriding and car theft is the word “permanently.” Otherwise, both joyrider and thief have been guilty of taking someone else’s car. In other states, the two crimes are separate, and in that case, the person who took the car could be guilty of both crimes. In Mississippi, for instance, car theft means any unauthorized use of an automobile, and it is a felony. Joyriding is reserved for situations where a felony charge is too harsh, such as a child using a parent’s car without permission. In California, anyone convicted of taking another persons’ car without permission “with or without intent to steal” can be sent to the county jail not longer than one year and may be fined up to $5,000 or both. A person who takes a car on a joyride with the intent to return it can also be held responsible if the vehicle is damaged or causes damage to other people or property.

If joyriding is charged, a common defense is consent. There is no crime if the car owner gave consent to the joyrider. However, a previous consent does not establish a present consent. It must be shown that the owner gave the joyrider consent for this particular occasion.

Whether the charge is auto theft or joyriding, the defendant may have need for a bail bondsman in order to get out of jail until the court date. The bondsman guarantees a specified amount of money to the specified court of law. The money is the guarantee that the defendant will show up in court on the ordered date. For this service, the bondsman (or woman) charges a percentage of the total amount of the bond, usually 10%.

In most cases, joyriding will be charged, if it is charged at all, as a misdemeanor. However, for the person caught in a serious joyriding charge, it may be important to keep in mind the services of a bail bondsman.

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