What is carjacking
In California, carjacking is defined as “the felonious taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, or from the person or immediate presence of a passenger of the motor vehicle, against his or her will and with he intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession, accomplished by means of force or fear.” More simply put, if an individual forces or scares a person out of a car that they are either driving or sitting in, then they can be charged with carjacking.
What it takes to be convicted
In order to be convicted of carjacking, the prosecutor has to prove the following things:
- That the victim had possession of a vehicle
- That the individual charged with carjacking took the vehicle from their immediate presence
- When the vehicle was taken, it was taken against the victims will by force or fear
- The person who took the vehicle had to intend, or want, to deprive the owner of their vehicle either permanently or temporarily
The victim having possession of the vehicle does not necessarily mean that they were driving the vehicle at the time of the carjacking; it could also mean that they owned the vehicle at the time that it was taken. The vehicle that is stolen does not have to be taken a certain distance; even if it is not moved, just the attempt to move or steal it without the consent of the owner can qualify as carjacking or attempted carjacking.
Penalties and sentencing
Carjacking is considered a felony in California. A conviction can come with probation and up to one year in county jail or 3, 5, or 9 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. If convicted, an individual could get either of these punishments multiplied by the number of people in the vehicle at the time of the carjacking. Because carjacking is considered a violent felony, it counts as a strike under California law– this means that, if convicted, a person would have one of three possible strikes on their record.
There are several enhancements that can be added to a carjacking conviction and they each come with an increased sentence. One enhancement that can be added is great bodily injury where a person is significantly injured in the process of a carjacking. This enhancement comes with a 3-6 year sentence in addition to the sentence received for carjacking. If it is determined that the individual convicted of the carjacking was in a criminal gang and that they committed the crime in order to benefit the gang or because the gang instructed them to, it is another type of enhancement and it comes with a 15 to life in prison sentence in addition to the time they are ordered to serve because of the carjacking conviction. If a gun was used in the process of the carjacking, the enhancement is that if the gun was shown there would be an additional 10 years, if it was fired there is a 20 year sentence added, and if the gun was fired and someone was seriously injured then there is a 25-to-life sentence added. If, during the carjacking, the victim was killed either intentionally, accidentally, or of a health condition triggered by the attack then under California law, the carjacker is automatically responsible for murder in the first degree.
Legally, there are a few possible defenses to a carjacking. The first is to show that there was some form of consent given to take the other person’s vehicle. Another line of defense is to prove that it was a mistaken identification. It could be the case that the victim of the carjacking was so startled and stressed because of the event that they mistakenly identified the wrong person.
How we can help you
If you or a loved one has been charged with carjacking in California, you need an aggressive Orange County criminal defense lawyer on your side. From our office in Costa Mesa, we serve people throughout Southern California, including in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Call (855) 505-5588 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.