You could face Carjacking charges under California law if you take a motor vehicle from another person using force or fear. This means inflicting physical harm on another person or threatening to cause bodily injury. These charges can apply even if the person in the car is not the owner of the vehicle.
You should also have taken the vehicle from the victim's immediate presence and against the victim's will. You should also intend to deprive the victim of the vehicle temporarily or permanently. If you are facing Carjacking charges, get in touch with our criminal defense attorneys at Pasadena Criminal Attorney for expert legal help.
Elements of Carjacking
The crime of Carjacking has several elements that you have to fulfill to be guilty of the offense. First, you must have taken the vehicle from the immediate presence or the possession of the victim. Most people assume that the crime of Carjacking involves people armed with guns and other weapons ordering vehicle occupants out of the vehicle before getting into the vehicle and driving off. In this scenario, a defendant would be guilty of taking the car from the victim's possession. However, charges could also apply if the defendant takes a vehicle from the victim's immediate presence. Immediate presence means that the car is within the victim's observation, control, or reach. Therefore, carjacking charges could apply even if the victim was not in the car at Carjacking's time.
The second element of the crime involves taking a vehicle against the will of the victim. This fact means that you did not have the victim's permission to take the car. A victim can only cooperate through positive cooperation and free will. However, if the victim allows you to have a car because of fear or force, this does not qualify as consent. If a victim hands over a car to you out of a free will, you are not guilty of Carjacking.
Taking possession of a vehicle against the victim's will means acquiring the vehicle from the victim and moving the vehicle, even for a short distance. If you take a car from a victim but are unable to drive it, you could still be guilty of attempted Carjacking. The prosecutor will only have to prove the remaining elements of the crime.
The third element of Carjacking entails using fear or force to obtain the vehicle from the victim. The victim might hand over the vehicle to you out of the fear of harm to his/her person, property, or family. The fear, and not free will, then makes the victim comply with your demands. You can satisfy this element of the crime if you use ample fear to overcome the victim's resistance. Even if a victim resists your requests, but you finally overpower the victim, it will not negate the fact that you used fear or force.
You should note that for you to be guilty of using fear or force, the victim does not even have to know that you are using fear or power to acquire the vehicle. For instance, even if there is an unconscious person or a child in the vehicle, who does not understand your actions, carjacking charges could still apply.
The fourth element of the crime is an intent to deprive the victim of the vehicle. You might have intended to stay with the vehicle for a limited period or forever. It is not relevant whether you carjack a vehicle to use it, or sell it. As long as you deprived the victim of the car, you could face charges even for a short period.
Punishment for Carjacking in California
According to California law PC 215, Carjacking is a felony offense. The possible punishment for the crime includes probation and jail time not exceeding one year in a county jail in California. You could also be subject to imprisonment in a state prison in California. The imprisonment period might be 3,5 or 9 years in a state prison in California. The court could also impose a fine that does not exceed $10,000. The punishment mentioned above applies to every victim who was present in the car at the time of Carjacking.
Several penalty enhancements are available for the crime of Carjacking in California. Therefore, if you commit Carjacking under specific circumstances, you will get enhanced penalties. Some of the standard penalty enhancements are:
Causing Great Bodily Injury during Carjacking
You will get additional penalties if you cause significant bodily injury to another person while committing the offense of Carjacking. Great bodily injuries mean extensive or substantial physical harm. The California PC 12022.7 outlines the sentencing enhancement that arises from inflicting significant bodily injury on another person. Under this enhancement, you will get a minimum of 3 years to a maximum of 6 years in addition to your prison sentence. The additional sentencing will be consecutive to the sentencing imposed for committing the crime.
Association with a Criminal Street Gang
This sentence enhancement will apply if the prosecutor proves that you committed the crime of Carjacking for the benefit of a criminal street gang. You could also have committed the crime in an association of or under the direction of a criminal street gang. The California PC 186.22 outlines the penalty enhancement that results from involvement with a criminal street gang. Under this enhancement, you will get an additional 15 years to your sentencing. The enhancement will be additional and consecutive to the penalties assigned under PC 215.
Use a Gun, and You're Done Law
Under this law outlined under California PC 12022.53, you will get ten years in prison if you use a gun while committing Carjacking. If you fire a gun during Carjacking, you will get 20 years to your sentence. If you use a gun and you inflict significant bodily injury or kill a person while Carjacking, you will get an additional 25 years to life imprisonment. This additional sentencing will be consecutive to your underlying carjacking conviction.
Three Strikes Law Enhancement
According to California law, violation of PC 215 is a violent felony. Therefore, in addition to the penalties for a conviction of Carjacking, you will also get a strike on your criminal record. This penalty is in line with the Three Strikes law in California. With a strike on your criminal record, you cannot be eligible for parole until you complete 85% of your sentencing.
You will become a second striker if you commit an additional offense, and you already have a strike on your record. The law requires second strikers to get double the penalty required by the law. You
will become a third striker if you commit a subsequent felony, and you already have two strikes on your record. If you are a third striker, the law requires you to serve a minimum of 25 years in a State prison in California.
Felony-Murder Rule in California
The felony-murder rule will apply if you unintentionally or accidentally kill another person during the commission of Carjacking. This rule will also apply if your accomplice intentionally or accidentally kills another person while committing Carjacking. According to this rule, you will be automatically guilty of committing first-degree murder. This law will apply even if the victim does not die during the commission of Carjacking. As long as the Carjacking significantly contributed to the victim's death, the charges will apply. For instance, a victim could suffer stress during Carjacking and die due to a heart attack. In this case, the felony-murder rule would apply because the carjacking offense significantly contributed to the victim's death.
The crime of Carjacking could have negative immigration consequences because it is an aggravated felony. Therefore, if you are not a citizen of the United States, Carjacking's crime could lead to deportation. The crime could also render you inadmissible in the United States. If you are inadmissible, you cannot gain United States citizenship through naturalization or any other method.
The crime of Carjacking could have adverse consequences, mainly if penalty enhancements apply. It is essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charges.
Probation for Carjacking
After committing Carjacking in California, the court could grant you probation typically for three to five years. The court could subject you to felony probation. While on felony probation, you have to meet with the probation officer regularly or visit the probation office now and then. While on probation, you might have to undergo regular drug testing. You might also have to give up your search and seizure rights. By giving up your search and seizure rights, it means that a law enforcement officer can search your person while you least expect it. However, the law enforcement officer should be aware of your probationary status.
If the probation officer believes that you violated the terms of probation, the officer has a right to arrest you without a warrant. After this arrest, you would have to wait in jail without the possibility of bail until the judge determines whether you violated the terms of probation. If the judge confirms that you violated the terms of probation, he/she could cancel the probation and recommend imprisonment in a State Prison in California.
The most effective way of coming up with a proper defense, especially after violating the terms of probation, is consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Common Legal Defenses
Carjacking is a serious offense under California law; however, you can still come up with viable defenses to help you fight the charges. You should consult a criminal defense attorney in the early stages of the accusation. Some of the defenses that could apply to a Carjacking charge include:
You Did Not Take the Vehicle Against the Victim's Will
You should have taken the vehicle against the victim's will for you to be guilty of Carjacking. If the vehicle owner or the person in possession of the vehicle allowed you to use it, you are not guilty of Carjacking. After consenting or allowing you to use the vehicle, the victim cannot later claim that you took the vehicle feloniously against his/her will. From the definition of Carjacking, you can only violate the law if you take a car against a driver's or passenger's will.
What would happen if a person allows you to take his/her vehicle and later accuses you of Carjacking for failing to return the car at the agreed time? In this case, you would not be guilty of Carjacking because you did not take it through fear or force. Also, because you had permission to take the car, this incident cannot qualify as Carjacking. However, you could still be guilty of the crime of joyriding.
You Did Not Use fear or Force to Obtain the Vehicle
You can also defend yourself against carjacking charges by pointing out that you did not use fear or force to obtain the vehicle from the victim. You could have seen an empty vehicle at the gas station with the keys still on. You decide to enter the vehicle and drive away, yet the owner is not present. Since you did not use fear or force to get the vehicle, you are not guilty of Carjacking. However, you could be guilty of committing the crime of grand theft auto or joyriding under California law.
You Did Not Take the Vehicle from the Possession or Immediate Presence of the Victim
You should have taken the vehicle from the possession or the immediate presence of the victim for you to be guilty of Carjacking in California. Therefore, if you committed the crime outside the victim's presence, the offense might not qualify as Carjacking. Consequently, you could be guilty of committing grand theft auto or joyriding but not Carjacking.
One of the most common causes of wrongful convictions in the U.S is mistaken identity. After involvement in Carjacking, the victim is likely to feel confused and stressed. Therefore, if told to identify the perpetrator of the crime, he/she can describe the wrong person. Carjacking often happens fast, and victims have limited time to identify the perpetrators. Therefore, many cases of false accusations and misidentifications revolve around Carjacking. The police might arrest you because your physical features match those of the real perpetrator of the crime, yet you are innocent. You should not give up if you are a victim of the wrong accusation. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you reveal the truth.
Your attorney will question the victim's ability to have perceived and identified the perpetrator. The attorney might also seek the help of an eyewitness identification expert. The expert can help reveal the reasons why the evidence presented against you is unreliable. Your attorney will negotiate with the court to reduce or drop your charges after establishing the unreliability of the evidence against you.
Lack of Intent
You can also point out that you did not intend to deprive the victim of the vehicle either temporarily or permanently. The intent is an essential element in the crime of Carjacking. Therefore, if you did not intend to commit the offense, you cannot face charges.
Claim of Right
According to California law, a claim of right is not a viable defense. Therefore, even if you are the legal owner of a vehicle, you should never use fear or force to obtain the car from another person's possession. This fact is because, in California, Carjacking is a crime of possession and not ownership.
Offenses Often Charged Alongside Carjacking
The prosecutor might charge certain offenses alongside Carjacking or instead of Carjacking. Some of these crimes include:
California PC 211 defines the crime of robbery. You could be guilty of this offense if you took property belonging to another person from his/her person or immediate presence. Just like in Carjacking, you are guilty of robbery if you use fear or force to take another person's property. Carjacking is a form of robbery because it entails taking someone's vehicle from his/her person or immediate possession.
However, California law created a distinct Penal Code 215 to punish vehicle robbery as a more severe offense. For instance, the crime of robbery in California has a maximum imprisonment of five years. However, the imprisonment for Carjacking could extend up to nine years.
In some instances, the prosecutor might charge you with both robbery and Carjacking. For example, if you forcefully demand a purse from a driver before taking his/her vehicle, you will be guilty of both robbery and Carjacking.
According to California PC 211, robbery is a felony offense. The punishment for the crime includes imprisonment in state prison for two to five years. You cannot face charges of both Carjacking and robbery at the same time because the law does not allow. According to the law, if you commit both the crime of robbery and Carjacking, the prosecutor can charge you with one offense.
Kidnapping During Carjacking
During the commission of Carjacking, you can commit the crime of kidnapping as outlined under PC 209.5. For instance, if you carjack a vehicle and drive away with the vehicle occupants, the prosecutor can charge you with both kidnapping and Carjacking. You could be guilty of this aggravated kidnapping even if you move the victims for a slight distance. Harsher charges will apply if the movement of the victims increases the risk of injury or harm to the victims.
The crime of kidnapping during a carjacking is a serious offense under California law. The punishment includes a life sentence with a likelihood of parole. However, the law does not allow the prosecutor to charge you with both kidnapping and Carjacking. If you commit both offenses, the court will likely dismiss the carjacking charges and charge you with kidnapping, which is a more severe offense.
You could be guilty of joyriding if you unlawfully drive a vehicle that does not belong to you. You
do not need to have the intent to deprive the vehicle owner of the car permanently for you to face these charges. As long as the prosecutor can prove that you unlawfully took and drove another person's vehicle without his/her consent, you will be guilty of joyriding. For both the crime of grand theft auto and joyriding, you do not have to use fear or force to obtain a vehicle.
The prosecutor has the discretion to charge the crime of joyriding as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, in most cases, prosecutors charge the offense of joyriding as a misdemeanor. The penalties for a misdemeanor charge include jail time not exceeding one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, the penalties for joyriding include imprisonment of up to three years in state prison. You could also have to pay a fine that is not more than $5,000. You could serve imprisonment not exceeding four years and pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000 for joyriding a fire truck, a police vehicle, or an ambulance.
If you break into a locked vehicle intending to steal or joyride, you could be guilty of auto burglary under California law. This crime is a wobbler; the prosecutor has the liberty of charging the offense as a felony or misdemeanor. If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include jail time not exceeding one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, you could face up to three years in a state prison in California.
You could be guilty of battery if you use violence or force to remove a driver or another vehicle occupant from the car during Carjacking. California PC 242 defines the crime of battery. The crime of simple battery is a misdemeanor with a potential penalty of six-month jail time in county jail. However, the crime of battery with serious bodily injury is a wobbler that could attract felony or misdemeanor charges.
Find a Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me
You should not fight carjacking charges on your own because the criminal justice system can be too complex to navigate. It is good to have a reliable criminal defense attorney to defend and protect your rights. We invite you to contact Pasadena Criminal Attorney at 626-689-2277 and speak to a competent defense attorney.