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‘Kia Boyz’ unaware of serious penalties that can result from joyriding

Allison Ritter, of Ritter & Kremer Law, specializes in criminal defense

On May 31, the Milwaukee Youtuber Tommy Gerszewski, also known as “Tommy G.”, posted a sixteen-minute documentary on the Kia Boys which quickly garnered the attention of local and national media.

The Kia Boys, as they’ve come to be known, are mostly males under the age of 18, and have become notorious in Milwaukee for car theft and reckless “joyriding.” The Milwaukee Police Department reports there was a more than 132% increase in auto thefts in Milwaukee from 2020 to 2021.

The numbers for 2022 so far are even higher. As the MPD funnels more of their investigative resources into the Kia Boys, Gerszewski’s documentary shows they are not concerned. “You’re only gonna do like three weeks,” says one of the boys in the documentary, “It’s a misdemeanor.”

What Gerszewski’s documentary makes abundantly clear, however, is that although the Kia Boys may be well-versed in stealing cars, they are not well-versed in the law. A quick flip through the Wisconsin Criminal Statutes presents at least 19 charges a Kia Boy could be faced with if caught and charged as an adult. And, if a young Kia Boy is waived to adult court for such a violation, he could be doing serious prison time.

Consider a fact pattern: The 17-year-old Kia Boy, KB, is walking down North Bartlett Street right off East Locust Street in Milwaukee around 10 at night. While walking, KB sees a Blue Kia Soul and thinks, “As a Kia Boy, I should steal that Kia Soul and take it for a ride.” KB approaches the Kia Soul, looks into the window and notices that the owner has left an iPhone charger plugged in. KB breaks the rear passenger window, climbs in and up to the driver’s seat. Once there, he pulls a screwdriver out of his backpack and uses it to tear off the vehicle’s steering column, exposing its starting mechanism. He takes the owner’s iPhone charger and places the silver end into the spot where a key would typically go and turns it. The car starts, and he speeds off in his “stolie” – slang for a stolen car.

At this point, what crimes has KB committed? At least four: criminal damage to property (the level of the crime depends on the amount of the damage), entry into a locked vehicle (a misdemeanor), operating a motor vehicle without consent (a felony) and felony theft. If convicted, KB could be faced with as many as seven to 12 years in prison.

Now, what if KB goes on a joyride similar to the ones shown in the documentary and drives at extreme speeds through residential neighborhoods, crashes into a light pole or other public or private property, further damages the stolen vehicle and flees from the police? These additional actions, even if no one is injured, could result in serious additional criminal charges of:

• Recklessly Endangering Safety (for putting neighborhood residents in danger by driving through their yards), and additional felony property crimes for damaging city or private property if its value is greater than $2,500 dollars or if it belongs to a public utility. Reckless endangerment carries penalties as high as 12.5 years in prison, and felony criminal damage to property and fleeing each carry as much as 3.5 years prison.

Let’s say KB loses control of a stolen car as he is careening through a front yard and strikes a homeowner. If the homeowner survives, KB could (depending on the seriousness of the injuries) be faced with charges of Reckless Injury, which carries up to 25 years in prison. If the homeowner dies as a result of her injuries, KB could be faced with a range of homicide charges from Homicide by Negligent Operation of Vehicle (10 years in prison) up to First Degree Reckless Homicide, which carries as many as 60 years in prison. This is all assuming KB stole the car and did not take it from a person by force.

If KB robbed (car jacked) someone to get the car, he would additionally be faced with robbery charges, which could range from 40 to 60 years (depending on if a weapon was used) and additional felony murder charges adding on 15 years of prison exposure if anyone (even another Kia Boy acting with KB) died as a result.

What if KB was under 17? In the documentary, the Kia Boys who were interviewed suggested that the average age of a Kia Boy was around 12 years. If KB is between 10- and 14-years-old, he would be adjudicated in Juvenile Court for any violation of law except if he were charged with First Degree Reckless Homicide or armed Robbery, over which an adult criminal court would have exclusive original jurisdiction. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 938.183. If KB is 15 or 16, Wisconsin law permits the state to petition the juvenile court for a waiver to adult court for any crime. Upon the filing of such a petition, the juvenile court would have to determine whether the allegations have “prosecutive merit.” Id.

The court must be satisfied that “the record establishes to a reasonable probability that the violation of the criminal law alleged has been committed and that the juvenile[s] [have] probably committed it.” In Int. of T.R.B., 109 Wis. 2d 179, 192, 325 N.W.2d 329, 335 (1982). A matter has prosecutive merit “if the evidence submitted to the juvenile court indicates that the charges against the juvenile are not merely capricious and that, assuming the juvenile were an adult, further criminal proceedings would be justified.” In Int. of D. E. D., 101 Wis. 2d 193, 205, 304 N.W.2d 133, 139 (Ct. App. 1981), disapproved of on other grounds by In Int. of J.G., 119 Wis. 2d 748, 350 N.W.2d 668 (1984).

Once the court is satisfied that prosecutive merit exists, it must then consider five criteria before granting a waiver up to adult court. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 938.18. The seriousness of the alleged offenses is often largely determinative. A minor allegation that would be considered a misdemeanor in criminal court would likely not be waived up to adult court. A major felony, however, would certainly increase the likelihood of waiver.

If KB remains under juvenile jurisdiction, the presumption is he would be sent home on supervision. For the more serious offences, a juvenile may be placed in a county juvenile detention center or in a juvenile facility managed by the Department of Corrections. If waiver to adult court is granted, KB would be faced with the adult consequences as described above. If sentenced to prison as adults, 15-year- to 16-year-olds would remain in juvenile custody and then could be transferred to adult prison when they turn 17.

Kia Boys can be and are subject to serious consequences if they are caught. It is, however, proving difficult to catch young boys intent on committing crimes of opportunities for “fun.” They do not retain the cars but run them until they crash or run out of gas and then move onto the next car.

These boys are a mix of many individuals and much smaller groups and do not represent a “gang” of offenders that act in concert. Law enforcement is saddled with a serious burden in trying to combat this new style of offender and will need to come up with new ways to prevent and investigate the Kia Boys before the current situation in Milwaukee is brought under control.

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