Carjacking (GTA)

If you find yourself facing a carjacking charge, or if you believe you may be under investigation for carjacking and soon charged with this very serious offense, do not hesitate to avail yourself of the best possible legal defense. The sooner you act to defend yourself, the better.

Carjacking is an extremely serious felony offense in California, and prosecutors are not shy about aggressively pursuing their case. Only by pitting an experienced criminal defense attorney against the prosecution can you expect to beat them and win your case.

The prison terms, fines, and other penalties for a carjacking conviction are simply too high for you to put your case into the hands of any but the very best.

At Leah Legal, we understand the gravity of the charge you are facing, and we have deep experience in winning these types of cases. We have helped numerous clients in the L.A. Area and throughout Southern California win dismissals, acquittals, and reduced charges/sentences when up against a carjacking allegation.

For a free legal consultation and quick attention to your case, contact Leah Legal 24/7, 365, at 818-484-1100!

How Is "Carjacking" Legally Defined Under California Law?

Under California Penal Code Section 215, "carjacking" is defined as the taking of a vehicle from the immediate possession of another person by means of force or fear.

For the prosecution to gain a conviction on a carjacking charge, it must prove the following:

  • Someone else was in possession of the vehicle in question.
  • The defendant took control of the vehicle away from that person or in that person's immediate presence.
  • This taking was accomplished by force or fear.
  • It was done against the will of the victim.
  • It was done for the purpose of depriving the victim of the vehicle.

Note that carjacking doesn't always have to be the prototypical scenario where a man with a gun or knife orders a driver out of his/her car, gets in, and drives off. That's only one of a number of possible ways a carjack "job" may take place.

As long as the car is within the immediate possession or presence of the victim, it's still a carjacking rather than just an "ordinary" auto theft. This distinction is akin to the difference between simple theft and robbery, except that a car is specifically the property being stolen.

The "taking" of the car simply means (legally) the taking of control over it and the moving of it even a small distance. If the car could not move, for any reason, it would be attempted carjacking at most, rather than carjacking.

Physical force or threats used to induce fear must have been used to get the victim to give up possession of his or her car. A willing handing over a vehicle can never count as carjacking.

The "fear" involved in carrying out a carjacking can be a physical threat of violence against the person in possession of the car or against his or her family member(s).

As to the element of intent to deprive the victim of possession of his/her vehicle, this intended deprivation can be either permanent or just temporary. If someone steals a car by force or fear only intending to "borrow it" and return it later - it still counts as carjacking. (Carjacking refers to the act of violently taking a vehicle not to how long one intends to keep the vehicle once taken.)

Possible Penalties for a Carjacking Conviction

If you are convicted of simple, unaggravated carjacking in California, it is a felony offense and is punishable by 12 months in county jail (OR probation) OR by 3 to 9 years in state prison plus a fine of up to $10,000. Which penalty you receive will depend on the severity of the case.

And you have to multiply the punishment by the number of persons present in the vehicle when it was carjacked - thus, the total sentence can be very steep indeed.

Additionally, there are certain sentencing enhancements that apply in aggravated carjacking cases. First, if great bodily injury was caused to someone due to the carjacking, you can get 3 to 6 years in prison for the offense.

If the carjacking was related in any substantial way to a gang, the street gang enhancement may apply (PC 186.22), which adds 15 years to the prison sentence or even makes it a life sentence.

Under California's "use a gun and you're done" law, 10 years are added to your prison term for using a gun to commit a crime, 20 years if you actually fired the gun, and 25 years to life if you inflicted substantial injury or death with the gun.

Plus, if a carjacking conviction is your second violent felony, it will likely be the second "strike" on your criminal record under our state's "Three Strikes Law." That will double your sentence. A third strike would impose a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment.

Under the felony murder rule, if a person dies in connection with the carjacking, it is automatically charged as first degree murder. That's true even if you didn't intend to kill the person and even if they die from, say, a heart attack that was triggered by the stress of the carjack situation.

Finally, since carjacking is viewed as a particularly severe felony in California, a conviction will typically lead to deportation for both illegal and legal immigrants.

Common Defense Strategies Against a Carjacking Charge

At Leah Legal, we are adept at creating a customized defense strategy to win each and every case we take on. We know how to apply the basic defense types for carjacking cases to particular situations and when to use one defense as opposed to the other - or a combination of multiple defenses on the same case.

We fight to put you in the best position possible legally even before the trial begins. Pre-trial motions can often weaken the prosecution's chances to the point they give up and drop the case. In-court, we are skilled at presenting arguments, testimonies, and evidences in your favor and working to discredit those of the prosecution.

Leah Legal has consistently won dismissals, acquittals, and reduced charges and/or sentences in carjacking defense cases in Los Angeles and Southern California - and we stand ready to win the best possible outcome for you as well.

Here are several of our most commonly used defense strategies against a California carjacking charge:

  1. Consent Was Given

If there was not a lack of consent from the person in possession of the vehicle, then your taking it cannot have constituted carjacking.

It must have against the will of the driver, passenger, or other other person present. 

Let's say you borrowed a friend's car and did not return it or, at least, not on time. That could be joyriding or even grand theft auto (lesser offenses) - but it can't be carjacking.

  1. No Force/Fear Used

Carjacking (PC 215) requires that some form of force or fear (threatening) was used to coerce another person present to allow you to take possession of the car. 

So, if someone's car is running keys-in at a gas station, and you jump in and drive off - even if they watch helplessly as you do it - that's auto theft but not carjacking.

Why? because you didn't use physical force or fear on the victim to take possession of the vehicle. It's similar to the difference between simple theft and armed robbery.

  1. Mistaken Identity

In some cases, the carjacker may have been disguised and may not have been apprehended in the act. There might be a question about who the true perpetrator is.

Witnesses in these instances may make mistakes about who the criminal was. This is especially so because of the extreme stress people are under during a carjacking and because of the speed at which the whole incident can occur.

  1. False Accusation

In rarer instances, it may sometimes occur that someone simply creates a false story that you committed a carjacking - maybe out of a spirit of revenge. Or, you may have been framed to cover for the true culprit.

We at Leah Legal know how to get to the bottom of fabricated stories by cross-examining witnesses and challenging circumstantial or outright false pieces of evidence.

  1. Police Misconduct

If your rights were violated in any way, especially in an illegal search and seizure, the evidence the prosecution is relying on may not be admissible in court.

In that case, you can likely win a dismissal of the case even before having to ever go to trial.

Finally, we mention that "claim of right," that is, a defense which says it was fine for me to take the car by force because it really was my car or the victim owed me money - is NOT A VALID DEFENSE against the charge of carjacking.

Why not? Because carjacking is all about the taking of a vehicle from the immediate possession of another person by violence. It has nothing to do with the ownership of the car in question - that's another matter that has to be dealt with separately.

Related Offenses

It helps, in a carjacking defense case, to be aware of and familiar with other related offenses that may come up. It's possible some of the following charges could be filed along with or instead of the carjacking charge:

  1. Robbery (PC 211)

The taking of another person's property from his/her immediate person or possession is robbery. Carjacking is just robbery of a car, but it is punished more harshly than other forms of robbery.

In some cases, you could be charged with both robbery and carjacking. For example, if the victim's wallet was stolen along with the car. 

BUT, you can only be punished for one or the other offense if they both were part of the same incident. The penalty for the lesser offense of robbery would probably be stayed if you're convicted of both robbery and carjacking.

  1. Grand Theft Auto

If no force or fear was used to steal an automobile but you are still found guilty of stealing it, you'll likely be charged with grand theft auto instead of carjacking. 

However, the car must have been worth at least $950, or else it's just auto theft but not grand theft auto.

And you must have intended to permanently take the car away from its rightful owner with grand theft auto. If you steal an empty car with intent to temporarily deprive the owner of its use, then that is "joyriding," a distinct crime.

  1. Auto Burglary

When a car is locked and someone breaks into it to steal something inside or to go joyriding in it - it's the crime of auto burglary.

Auto burglary can be a felony or a misdemeanor, and it's penalties are much lighter than those for carjacking. But if auto burglary is added on top of a carjacking charge, the sentence becomes that much more severe overall.

  1. Kidnapping while carjacking.

Under PC 209.5, it is a distinct crime to commit kidnapping while in the process of committing carjacking. If you drive off with someone still inside of the car, even if you intend to drop them off down the road, it counts as kidnapping.

If you only moved the victim out of the car at the carjack point, then it's just ordinary carjacking. You can't be convicted of both carjacking (PC 215) and kidnapping while carjacking (PC 209.5). The latter crime is punishable by life in prison without parole.

Contact Us Today For Immediate Legal Assistance!

At Leah Legal, we will know how to build you a solid defense against any and all carjacking charges you may face. We understand the California Penal Code on carjacking and related matters down to the legal minutia, and we add to that knowledge longstanding practical experience and deep-seated familiarity with local L.A. Area court processes.

Contact Leah Legal today, by calling 818-484-1100. We are standing by 24/7/365 to take your call for help!