Carjacking is among the severely punished crimes. It occurs when you use fear or force to take another person's vehicle from their presence. Carjacking is a felony offense, punishable by lengthy prison time and payment of a hefty fine. Your penalties intensify if there is proof that you used a dangerous weapon like a gun to commit the crime. Carjacking also attracts life-changing consequences, including loss of gun rights, a damaging criminal record, and severe immigration consequences.

If you face carjacking charges in Anaheim today, it is advisable to seek the help of a skilled criminal attorney. An attorney will protect your rights, make the legal process manageable, and plan a solid defense against your charges. We also offer advice and support throughout the legal process at California Criminal Lawyer Group. Our team fights hard to deliver a favorable outcome for your case.

Legal Definition of Carjacking Under California Law

The law against carjacking is under Penal Code 215. It makes it a felony offense for any person to take a vehicle from another person's possession or direct presence, or the person or direct presence of someone else in the car, against their will. Carjackers use force or fear to accomplish their acts. They also commit the crime of depriving the vehicle owner of their vehicle permanently or temporarily. Carjacking is a severe and highly punishable offense. Thus, you need proper legal support and guidance if you face carjacking charges in Los Angeles today. Your defense team will help protect your rights and fight your charges to avoid a conviction.

For the court to declare you guilty of carjacking in Los Angeles, the district attorney must prove all elements of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements comprise the legal definition of carjacking, and they are:

  • A person was in possession of their vehicle.
  • You took the vehicle from their presence or the presence of someone they had in the car.
  • Using fear or force, you did so against the vehicle owner's or passenger's will.
  • You intended to deprive the vehicle owner of their car temporarily or permanently.

Let us look at these elements in greater detail to understand this law even better:

Possession or Direct Presence

Carjacking involves taking another person's vehicle from their possession or direct presence. Most carjackings occur when a vehicle owner is ordered out of their car by an armed carjacker, who takes over and drives off. The incidents start with a vehicle owner in their car, probably driving to their destination or packed somewhere waiting for someone or something. It means that the vehicle is in its owner's direct presence, and the driver is in its possession at the time.

Direct presence means the vehicle is within its owner's reach, control, or observation, so they can quickly retain their car’s possession if the carjacker's fear, force, or intimidation does not overcome them.

Some carjacking cases occur when the driver is still driving their vehicle or inside. They are forcefully and fearfully evicted from the vehicle for the carjacker to take over.

But the definition of carjacking goes beyond this narrative. For example, you are heading out of the grocery store and see someone trying to enter your car in the parking lot. You are about to scream and call for attention when they show you their gun. From the look on their face, the person will not hesitate to shoot if you try to ruin their plan. Thus, you let them take the car out of fear. The person is guilty of carjacking since they took your car in your presence and against your will.

Against Their Will

You are guilty under PC 215 if you take another person's vehicle against their will.

You possess another person's vehicle and even move over a distance, however slight it would be. You are still guilty of carjacking even if you cannot drive the car after possessing it. What matters is that the district attorney can prove all other facts of the crime.

Acting against someone's will means going against the person's consent. A vehicle owner consents when they allow you to take their car voluntarily and freely, not under fear, force, or intimidation. Consent includes positive cooperation and free will. If you had to use force to obtain another's vehicle, you went against their free will and are guilty under this law.

Use of Fear or Force

Carjackings are accomplished through fear or force. Legally, fear and intimidation carry the same meaning. When fear is induced by threat, it is a type of force.

A person experiences fear when they fear suffering harm at the hands of another. The person could be afraid of their safety, the safety of their family or property, or the people or property at the crime scene. This element is satisfied if, out of fear, the victim complies with the carjacker's unlawful demands. You would be guilty under this law if you had to use enough fear or force to overcome your victim's resistance.

It will not matter whether the victim attempted to resist. Moreover, the prosecutor does not need to prove that the alleged victim was conscious and knew you used fear or force to take their vehicle. For example, you will still be guilty under PC 215 if you took another person's vehicle in the direct presence of an infant or unconscious person.

Intent to Deprive the Owner

Theft crimes in California need an intent mainly to deprive or deny a property owner of their possession permanently. But carjacking requires an intent to deny the vehicle owner of their property temporarily or permanently. In that case, you are guilty under this law if you took someone's car to use it once or for a period, to keep it to yourself, or sell it.

Defending Yourself Against Carjacking Charges

A conviction for carjacking will significantly impact your life. In addition to spending time in prison, you will pay a hefty fine and have to live with a life-changing criminal record. A conviction will also impact your social and career life. That is why you must put up a good fight during the trial with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Fortunately, legal defense strategies are available that your attorney can use in your case to have the court dismiss or reduce your charges. These strategies are:

You Did Not Use Fear or Force

Carjacking is accomplished through fear or force. The perpetrator needs fear or force to overcome the victim's free will. The victim would not allow the perpetrator to take their vehicle without that. Thus, if you did not use fear or force, you are not guilty under California PC 215.

It could be that you only saw a beautiful vehicle parked with its owner outside and figured out that you could test it a little. In that case, you did not need to force or intimidate its owner into accessing the vehicle. Even though doing so is legally wrong, you will not be guilty under this statute. The judge could reduce your charges to a more lenient charge like joyriding or dismiss your charges with a stern warning.

You Had The Owner's Consent

You are only guilty under PC 215 if you take another person's vehicle against their will or without their consent. That would not be the case if you had the owner's consent or permission to take their vehicle.

If someone allowed you to use their vehicle but could not return it on the agreed time, they could accuse you under PC 215. That would be the best defense strategy to use in that situation.

Also, a passenger in a vehicle you took with the owner's permission could accuse you of violating PC 215 if you did not first explain to them why you are taking the car in the first place. You could have assumed that they knew you would be taking the vehicle or were sleeping when you entered the car.

The judge will dismiss or reduce your charges if the two scenarios are actual.

Mistaken Identity

It is not unusual for someone to accuse another of a crime the other has not committed due to mistaken identity. It could be that you resemble, are friends, or relatives of the perpetrator. Carjacking incidents cause victims a lot of stress and anxiety. They can forget what occurred, including how the perpetrator looked or dressed. In most cases, carjacking suspects are wrongly accused and misidentified.

If you are arrested and charged with a carjacking offense you know nothing about, your criminal attorney can help. Experienced criminal defense attorneys have handled similar cases. Your attorney will know the best approach to convince the jury of your innocence.

Note: Unlike most theft-related crimes, you cannot claim the right to the vehicle to defend yourself against carjacking charges. Claiming the right to something occurs when you take something from another person's possession because you believe in having a right to it. Even as a valid vehicle owner, you are not legally correct to take it from another person's possession or person through fear or force. Carjacking is not legally considered a crime of ownership but possession.

Example: David was infuriated when Mercy broke up with him. He swore to take revenge on her soon. One afternoon, David waited for Mercy at her workplace's parking lot. He jumped into her car immediately after she opened it and ordered her to drive out of town fast. Out of fear for her safety, Mercy begged David to forgive her, with no success. After driving several miles out of town, David ordered Mercy out of the vehicle. He went back to town, stranding her in the middle of nowhere.

David was later arrested and charged with carjacking. In his defense, he told the court that he was recovering the car he had bought for Mercy while they were still dating. Sadly, that defense was inadmissible in court, so he was convicted.

Penalties for a Carjacking Conviction in California

In California, a violation of PC 215 is a straight felony, attracting the following penalties upon conviction:

  • A maximum of $10,000 in court fines.
  • Three (3), five (5), or none (9) years in prison.
  • Felony probation and at least one year in jail.

Remember that the judge gives penalties according to each carjacking victim in your case. Thus, if you have two or more victims, you will receive additional penalties that you must serve consecutively.

Sentence Enhancement

Additionally, you are subject to enhanced sentencing after a carjacking conviction. A sentence enhancement increases your penalties under given circumstances. Here are the standard enhancements under this statute:

If you caused another person or people to sustain significant bodily injuries, you would receive a sentence enhancement under California PC 12022.7. The enhancement imposes an additional 3-6 years in prison that you must serve on top of and consecutively with the sentence you will receive for carjacking.

Suppose you are a criminal gang member who committed the carjacking offense to benefit, in collaboration with, or at the gang's order. In that case, you will also receive a sentence enhancement under California PC 186.22. The enhancement imposes a prison sentence of fifteen years to life in prison, which you must serve consecutively and in addition to the sentence you receive for carjacking.

The 10-to-20-life law also subjects carjacking convicts to an additional 20 years of prison time for using a firearm and 25 years in prison to life imprisonment for seriously injuring or killing a victim. As with other sentence enhancements, you must serve this sentence consecutively in addition to the punishment the judge gives you for the carjacking offense.

Since carjacking is a violence-related felony, it is a strike under the California Three-Strikes Law. Offenses considered strikes attract additional penalties if you have a previous conviction on a strike offense. Thus, if you were previously convicted of a violent felony and carjacking is your second, you will receive a double sentence for the underlying crime. But if you have two or more prior convictions for strike offenses, you could receive 25 years of prison time to life imprisonment for the third strike. A striker is only eligible for parole after serving 85% of their prison term.

You are also affected by state felony murder law if someone lost their life during the offense. If you or someone else accidentally killed someone during the carjacking, you will automatically face murder charges in the first degree. That would still apply even if the victim did not lose their lives in the commission of the crime. What matters is that their demise is logically connected to the carjacking. For example, if someone was too shocked by the carjacking, they had a heart attack.

Other Consequences for Conviction Under California PC 215

A criminal conviction will affect your life in many ways. A felony conviction will result in more severe consequences.

For example, carjacking is listed as an aggravated felony in California. Thus, it will affect your immigration status if you are an immigrant living and/or working in the U.S. It could result in your immediate removal for a given period or permanently, depending on the details of your case. You could also be marked as inadmissible, making it difficult for you to enter the U.S. in the future.

A felony conviction will automatically affect your gun rights. Adults in California can purchase and possess guns, except in specific conditions, including after a felony conviction. If you already have a weapon, you will be expected to surrender it to the police immediately after your conviction.

A criminal conviction will also impact your career life. You could experience difficulties in finding suitable employment after serving your prison term. Employers always conduct background checks on prospective employees before hiring them. People with a criminal background will likely be denied the right jobs, even if they have the required qualifications. A conviction could also affect your social life. It could impact how you relate to the people in your life, including your family and friends.

But you could petition the court to expunge your conviction once you complete your prison term. An expungement eliminates all disabilities and negative implications of a criminal sentence. If the court grants your petition, your conviction for carjacking will not be publicly available. Thus, you can find a job with minimal challenges or a house or property to rent or lease.

California Carjacking and Related Offenses

According to the underlying circumstances, several offenses are available under the law that prosecutors can charge in addition to or in place of carjacking. Here are the most common of these offenses:

Robbery — California PC 211

You face charges for robbery in California if you take another person's property from their body or direct presence using fear or force. Carjacking is simply robbing a person of their car. But the carjacking law was created to punish car robbers more. Robbery carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, while carjacking is punishable by up to nine years.

But you could face charges for robbery and carjacking at the same time. For example, you will have committed both offenses if you stop a driver and force them to hand over their valuables, order them out of their car, and drive off. You will face robbery charges for the valuables you stole and carjacking charges for taking their vehicle against their will.

Like carjacking, robbery is a felony offense. But if you are guilty of both crimes, the law permits you to face penalties for one offense. The court will set aside the penalties for each other.

GTA — California PC 487(d)(1)

Grand theft auto or GTA charges occur if you steal another person's car. The main difference between carjacking and GTA is that GTA does not require proof that you used fear or force to commit the crime. Also, GTA intends to deprive car owners of their vehicles permanently. Remember that in carjacking, you could take another person's car temporarily.

GTA is a wobbler offense in California, which means that the DA can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your criminal history and the facts of your case. If charged as a misdemeanor under this law, you will likely receive a jail sentence of one year plus a court fine of $100. But if you receive a felony conviction, you could face a prison sentence of four years or two more years if the car's value exceeds $65,000. A felony conviction also attracts a court fine of $10,000.

Auto Theft or Joyriding

Auto theft, or joyriding, occurs when you illegally take and drive another person's car without permission. But it does not include an intention to permanently deprive its owner of the vehicle. For the court to convict you of auto theft, the prosecutor must prove that you took and drove a car that is not yours. You do not need fear or force to accomplish this offense, unlike carjacking.

Auto theft is a wobbler offense, but it is mainly a misdemeanor. If you face misdemeanor charges for joyriding, you will likely receive a jail sentence of one tear. But if you receive a felony conviction, you could be imprisoned for up to three years. The punishment increases if the vehicle is a fire truck, police car, or ambulance.

Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you face carjacking charges in Anaheim, it could be the most trying moment of your life. A conviction for carjacking is life-changing. You could be imprisoned, made to pay a hefty fine, and face other severe consequences after conviction, including losing your gun rights. But an experienced criminal attorney can help you fight your charges in court for a favorable outcome. We also smoothen the legal process and protect your rights at California Criminal Lawyer Group. Call us at 714-766-0965 and let us study your case details. With the proper defense, we could compel the court to dismiss or reduce your charges.