Carjacking

If you feloniously take a motor vehicle in possession of another person, you may be guilty of carjacking under California Penal Code 215 PC. You can take the car either from the person or from the immediate presence of the vehicle owner. You may also face carjacking charges if you take a vehicle from the person or the immediate presence of the passenger of a motor vehicle. Carjacking is a criminal offense in California with detrimental legal consequences. Leah Legal is committed to assisting clients facing carjacking charges in Van Nuys.

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Overview of Carjacking

For a prosecutor to prove that you are guilty of carjacking, he/she has to outline several elements of the crime. To start with, it must be evident that a person had possession of a car. The prosecutor must further prove that you feloniously took the vehicle from the immediate presence of the car owner or the immediate presence of a passenger in the car. It must be clear that you took the vehicle against the will of the vehicle owner or passenger by inflicting fear or force. The prosecutor must also prove that you had the intent to deprive the victim of the vehicle either temporarily or permanently.

At the mention of carjacking, most people get a mental picture of an armed carjacker who orders a driver to get out of a vehicle, hops into the car, and drives off. In this scenario, the vehicle is in direct possession of the vehicle owner. The California law broadens the definition of carjacking by stating that you may face charges for taking a car out of a person's immediate presence. Immediate presence implies that the vehicle is within the victim's observation, control, or reach. For carjacking charges, the alleged victim does not have to be inside the car or even driving the car.

California law defines taking a vehicle against the will of another person as taking possession of a vehicle and moving it even for a short distance.  If you do not move the vehicle, you may still face charges for attempted carjacking. Against a person's will also mean that you took the vehicle without the consent of its owner or passenger. Consent refers to a free and voluntary agreement and not a deal coerced by fear or force. If the prosecutor proves that the victim did not give you the vehicle out of positive cooperation and free will, you may face charges.

California Penal Code 215 PC defines fear or force as threatening to inflict harm on the victim or the victim's family or property. This fear makes the victim surrender his/her vehicle to you. For an element of fear in a carjacking crime, it must be evident that you inflicted sufficient terror to make the victim involuntarily surrender his/her asset. You satisfy the element of fear as long as the fear or force inflicted exceeded the victim's resistance.

You can face carjacking charges even if the victim is not aware that you are using fear or force to gain possession of the vehicle. For instance, if you carjack a car with a small child or infant inside, the infant may not be aware of your actions. However, you may still face carjacking charges. In some instances, you may carjack a vehicle with an unconscious person lying inside. Even if the unconscious victim may not know your motive or your use of force, you may still face carjacking charges.

Unlike California theft crimes that require the defendant to have the intent to deprive the victim of property for good, carjacking is different. You might face carjacking charges even if you intended to deprive the vehicle owner of the vehicle temporarily or permanently. As long as you move the car from its rightful owner, you are guilty of carjacking. This applies even if you intended to use the vehicle for a short period and then return it. The charges also apply if you intended to take the car and then resell it. 

The Legal Consequences for Carjacking

Under California law, carjacking is a felony offense. The legal consequences may include felony probation and jail time of up to one year in county jail. Formal felony probation requires you to regularly meet with the probation officer and make regular visits to the probation office. You also have to honor other conditions of probation that the court may put in place. If you fail to honor the terms of probation, the court may revoke the probation and recommend jail time instead. 

In some instances, punishment for felony carjacking may include imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may range from 3, 5, or 9 years. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.  According to California law, you face distinct punishment for each person/victim present in the vehicle at the time of the carjacking.

Sentence Enhancements for Carjacking

Other than the standard consequences for carjacking, you may face some additional penalties depending on the facts of the crime. With sentence enhancement, the court enhances your sentencing under certain circumstances. The court can enhance your sentencing under several circumstances:

 If a Victim/Victims Suffer Great Bodily Injury

Under the California Penal Code 12022.7 PC, you receive a sentence enhancement if another person or persons suffer a significant bodily injury during the carjacking. In determining great bodily harm, the law focuses on physical injuries a victim sustains and not financial or emotional injuries. Significant bodily injury is not limited to the typical forms of severe injuries like paralysis and brain damage. Injuries suffered do not have to be very severe or permanent to qualify as great bodily injury. The prosecutors and other law enforcement officers assess great bodily injury on a case-to-case basis. In determining great bodily injury, some of the factors that count include the extent or severity of injuries sustained by the victim. Other factors include the medical treatment required by the victim and the resulting pain or suffering from the injury. 

Some of the injuries that may qualify as great bodily injury include gunshot wounds and broken bones. Broken bones may comprise a broken arm, a broken nose, or broken jaw among others. Black or swollen eyes visible four months after the injury may qualify as great bodily injury.  Great bodily injury may also comprise of burns. For instance, while carjacking, the defendant may throw hot grease on the vehicle owner/passenger's face. 

For great bodily injury, the court may add 3 to 6 years consecutive prison sentence to your prior penalty for a carjacking conviction. 

Carjacking for the Benefit, Direction or in Association with a Criminal Gang

You may face enhanced sentencing if it is clear that you carjacked a vehicle under the instructions or in association with a criminal gang. You may also get sentence enhancement if it is evident that you carjacked a vehicle to benefit a criminal gang. The California Penal Code 186.22 PC makes the provision for a sentence enhancement if a criminal gang is involved. Under Penal Code 186.22(b) PC, any person who commits a felony offense for the benefit of a criminal gang must get a compulsory prison sentence. The compulsory prison sentence will be additional and consecutive to the penalty a defendant receives after a carjacking conviction. 

Depending on the facts of the crime, an enhancement under Penal Code 186.22(b) PC may result in an additional 2 to 15 years to your sentencing. In some instances, the enhancement may range from 25 years to life imprisonment. This may apply even if you were not a member of the said gang. It may also apply even if you did not directly commit the underlying felony. 

The enhancement is part of the STEP (California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention) Act. Under the provisions of the STEP Act, California law is very harsh to gang members and people who associate with gang members.  These people receive much more severe penalties than people who have no association with gang members. 

Use a Gun, and You're Done Law

Under the California Penal Code 12022.53 PC, you receive a California state prison enhancement that may range from 10, 20 or 25 years. The enhancement applies to various felonies where a defendant uses a gun to execute a crime. According to Penal Code 12022.53 PC, you receive an additional ten years to your sentence for using a gun. For firing/discharging a gun, you receive an additional 20 consecutive years to your felony sentencing. If you use a gun and you kill or seriously injure a person during execution of a crime, you may receive 25 years to life imprisonment on top of your felony conviction penalty.

The enhancements under Penal Code 12022.53 are applicable to serious felony crimes in California, including carjacking. Previously, the 10-20 sentencing enhancement was mandatory in California. However, things changed with the passing of Senate Bill 620 by the California Senate in 2017. In the interest of justice, the bill gave judges the freedom to use the 10-20-life sentence enhancement discretionary and not as a mandatory enhancement. 

A Strike to Your Record

Under the California Three Strikes Law, you earn a strike on your record for committing a carjacking crime.  Under California law, carjacking qualifies as a violent crime. Other than receiving a strike on your record, a carjacking crime requires you to serve a minimum of 85% of your sentence before gaining eligibility for parole.

If you, later on, commit another felony offense and you already have a strike on your record, you become a second striker. Second strikers receive twice the term required by the law. If you have two strikes on your record and you commit a third offense, you become a third striker. Third strikers serve a mandatory minimum sentence ranging from 25 years to life imprisonment in a California state prison. 

Senate Bill 1437- Felony-Murder Rule

California law outlines new rules concerning felony murder as outlined in Senate Bill 1437, which came into effect on September 30, 2018. The felony murder rule may apply if you directly kill a person in the course of committing a felony or while attempting to commit a crime. The law may also apply if you abet or aid a killing. If you are a significant participant in the murder or if the victim is a peace officer engaged in performing his duties, a felony-murder rule may apply. 

After committing a felony of carjacking, if you intentionally hit a victim or a witness and drive over him/her, the felony-murder rule may apply. Under the provisions of California's felony-murder rule, you face first-degree murder charges if you kill a person while committing carjacking. The law applies even though you accidentally or unintentionally kill another person. 

You may still face murder charges even if the victim does not die at the time of committing the carjacking crime. As long as the victim's death is related to the crime, you are liable. For example, if a victim of carjacking suffers shock or a heart attack and dies, you may be liable. It is easy to link the heart attack to the shock/terror the victim suffers during the carjacking. 

Deportation

Deportation is also a possible enhancement of carjacking penalties.  Carjacking qualifies as an aggravated felony. Therefore, if you are an alien or a legal immigrant, a carjacking crime may have detrimental consequences, including removal or deportation. 

Crimes Related to Carjacking

Depending on the nature of your crime, the prosecutor may charge you with other crimes closely related to carjacking instead of carjacking charges. In some other instances, you may receive charges for related crimes on top of the carjacking charges. Some of the related crimes include:

Robbery- under California Penal Code 211, carjacking may qualify as robbing as it entails robbing another person of his/her motor vehicle.

Grand Theft Auto-the crime is abbreviated as GTA. Under California Penal Code 487(d) (1) PC, GTA is a lesser crime than carjacking as it does not entail using force or fear to gain possession of a vehicle. For a grand theft auto, the defendant intends to deprive the vehicle owner of the car permanently. For carjacking, the intent is to deny the vehicle owner of the vehicle permanently or temporarily.

Other crimes related to carjacking include joyriding or auto theft, auto burglary, kidnapping during a carjacking, and battery. 

Fighting Carjacking Charges

If you are facing carjacking charges, your attorney can assist you in coming up with legal defenses. With proper defense, the court may reduce your charges through a plea bargain. Some of the common defenses for a carjacking offense include:

You Did Not Inflict Fear or Use Force

You cannot violate Penal Code 215 PC unless you use force or inflict fear on a victim. This fear makes the victim surrender his/her asset (vehicle) to you.  For instance, you may see the nice vehicle at the filling station with the door opens and the engine running, you then jump into the car and drive off. Under these circumstances, you may not face carjacking charges, as you did not use force or fear. Instead, you may face charges for a lesser crime of joyriding or grand auto theft.

Agreement/Consent of the Victim

You are only guilty of carjacking if you take a vehicle against the will of a driver or a passenger. If you prove in court that you had the consent of the driver or the passenger to take the vehicle, you cannot face charges. 

For instance, you may borrow a person's car, and you fail to return the vehicle at the agreed time. In such an instance, the vehicle owner may accuse you of carjacking. However, you cannot face carjacking charges as you had the consent of the vehicle owner to take the vehicle. This defense is similar to the defense that you did not use force or fear in obtaining the vehicle.  You may, however, face charges for lesser crimes like grand theft auto. 

Victim of Mistaken Identity

You can state that you are a victim of mistaken identity. Carjacking is a traumatic experience and may affect the victim's ability to identify or remember the perpetrator. Mistaken identity is a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. It is therefore very common for victims to misidentify and wrongly accuse suspects of carjacking. Therefore, you may face charges simply because you match the physical description of the alleged defendant. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges in court and prove that you did not commit the crime. 

Claim of Right

In some instances, you may be the rightful owner of a vehicle. If the vehicle is in possession of another person, you should not use force or inflict fear on the person to regain the car. Under California law, carjacking is a crime against possession and not ownership. Therefore, violently taking your vehicle from another person may attract carjacking charges, yet you are the rightful owner of the vehicle. Thus, the claim of right does not qualify as a defense under California law. 

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you are facing carjacking charges, seeking legal representation could significantly influence the outcome of your case.  At Leah Legal in Van Nuys, we will walk with you and help you fight the criminal charges against you. Contact us at 818-484-1100 and speak to one of our attorneys today!