If you take a motor vehicle that belongs or is in possession of another individual in a felonious manner, you might face a conviction for carjacking under California law. You are guilty if you take a car from the owner's person or his/her presence against his/her consent. To face a conviction, you should have the intention to deprive or deny the owner of his/her vehicle using fear or force. You do not have to take the car from the driver to be guilty of carjacking. You can receive charges even if you take the vehicle in the presence of a passenger. California PC 215 explains the crime of carjacking. Taking a car using fear and force means that you inflict physical fear or force on the victim, or you threaten to inflict bodily/physical harm. If you are facing carjacking charges, the associated penalties are harsh. California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you fight the charges in court.
Elements of Carjacking under California Law
California law defines the crime of carjacking as feloniously taking a vehicle from another person's immediate possession accomplished using fear or force. The prosecutor has to prove several elements before accusing you of carjacking. The prosecutor has to prove that the vehicle was in possession of another person. It should be evident that you took the car from the direct/ person or presence of the driver or a passenger. You must have taken the vehicle without the consent of the person in possession of the car. The prosecutor has to show that you intended to deprive the person of the car for either a short time or forever.
Most cases of carjacking involve armed carjackers threatening drivers out of vehicles and driving off. In such scenarios, cars are in the immediate/direct presence of drivers. A car being in the immediate/direct presence of a person means that the car is in a close reach of the person, control, or observation. It means that if the person was not overwhelmed by force and fear, the person would have retained possession of the vehicle. You might be guilty of carjacking in California, even if the victim was not driving or inside the vehicle. As long as the vehicle was within reach of the victim, it was in his/her immediate/direct presence according to the law.
Taking a car from another person means that you took possession of the vehicle and moved the car. It does not matter even if you moved the vehicle for a small distance. As long as you moved the vehicle, you are guilty of carjacking. At times, you may not drive the car even for a short-range. However, you may be guilty of attempted crime of carjacking, especially if the prosecutor can prove the other elements of the crime.
Taking a vehicle against the will of the victim or without his/her consent means that the victim was not in agreement with your actions. A victim may only be in approval if he/she allows you to take the vehicle freely out of the will and not due to fear or force. You only have the consent of the victim if he/she acts without coercion and on purpose.
Under PC 215, fear and force have almost the same meaning. Fear tends to have a coercive effect, and this in itself is a form of force. A victim may surrender a car to you out of fear of inherent harm to his/her person, family, or property at the scene of the crime. You will be guilty of using fear if you inflict enough fear in the victim, making him/her comply with your demands regarding his/her vehicle. You are guilty of inflicting fear and force as long as you use enough fear and force to overcome the resistance of the victim. Even if the victim attempts to rest your actions, it will not change the fact that you used fear and force on the victim.
You may be guilty of carjacking under California law even if the victim did not know that you are using fear and force. For instance, you may be guilty of carjacking if you take a vehicle with an infant inside. You will get charges despite the fact that the infant does not understand your actions. You may also be guilty of carjacking if you take a car occupied by an unconscious individual.
Just like theft crimes in California, the crime of carjacking requires you to have a specific intent or motive. The crime requires you to have the intent to deprive the victim of the car temporarily or permanently. It does not matter whether you intended to keep the carjacked vehicle for personal use or if you intended to sell the automobile. Even if you wanted to use the car for a brief duration and then take it to the owner, you would be guilty of carjacking under California law.
The Consequences of Carjacking in California
California law imposes harsh penalties on the crime of carjacking. An offense under California PC 215 is a felony and may be punishable by felony or formal probation and imprisonment not exceeding one year in California county jail. Depending on the severity of the offense and your criminal history, you might face incarceration in a state prison in California. The court may impose imprisonment of three, five, nine years in a state prison in California. You may also pay fines not exceeding $10,000. It is important to note that if several victims are inside the car at during carjacking, you might face penalties for each victim.
Other than the standard penalties for carjacking, you might face a sentence enhancement in some instances. Under particular situations, the court will impose harsher penalties for the crime of carjacking in California:
Carjacking Causing Significant Physical/Bodily Injury
You will face harsher punishment if, during the carjacking, you inflict on another individual significant physical/bodily injury. Causing great physical harm on a person means that you impose substantial physical damage. In addition to punishment for a conviction of carjacking, you will face an additional three to six years prison sentence.
Carjacking to Assist or Under Instructions of a Criminal Gang
You may also face enhanced charges if the prosecutor asserts that you carried out the crime of carjacking to assist or under instructions of a criminal gang. The California PC 186.22 outlines California's criminal gang enhancement. If you get a penalty enhancement under California PC 186.22, you will automatically receive imprisonment ranging from fifteen years or get imprisonment for life. This enhancement will be in addition to your sentencing for carjacking conviction.
Use a Gun and You are Done
You may also face a sentence enhancement under the California PC 12022.53. Commonly known as "use a gun and you are done" law, you will face an additional ten years imprisonment if you use a gun to threaten a victim during the carjacking. If you fire the weapon, you will face additional imprisonment of twenty years. If you use a firearm during a carjacking and you inflict severe injuries on another person, you will face a further 15 years to life imprisonment. You will also face addition and consecutive fifteen years to life as a penalty for carjacking if you kill another individual while committing the crime.
In addition to the imprisonment and hefty fines, you will also get a strike on your criminal record for committing the crime of carjacking. This is following the Three Strikes Law in California. All violent felonies result in a strike on your criminal record, and carjacking is a form of a violent felony. If you earn a strike on your criminal record, you will have to serve up to eighty-five percent of your full sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
If you have an existing strike on your criminal record and you commit an additional crime that qualifies as a strike, you will qualify as a second criminal striker. You will face double the prison duration stated by the law if you are a second striker. If you commit a third offense, which is a felony, and you already have existing two strikes on your criminal record, you will become a third criminal striker. As a third criminal striker, the law requires you to serve minimum imprisonment of twenty-five years to imprisonment for life in a state prison in California.
The crime of carjacking may also attract enhanced penalties under the California "felony murder rule." You will face enhanced penalties if, at the time of carjacking, you happen to kill another individual. Under the "felony murder rule," you will be guilty of first-degree murder. The individual does not have to lose his/her life at the crime scene for you to face first-degree murder charges. As long as your actions are a substantial contribution to the individual's death, you will get charges. For instance, if the victim suffers shock during the crime and dies from a heart attack, you will face first-degree murder charges. The charges will apply even if you did not directly kill the victim.
The crime of carjacking is an aggravated felony and may have serious immigration consequences. If you commit carjacking and you are not a citizen of the United States of America, you might face deportation or removal from the U.S. According to PC 215, the crime of carjacking may lead to deportation for aliens and legal immigrants.
Fighting Carjacking Charges
If you are facing charges for committing the crime of carjacking in California, all is not lost. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges in court. Your attorney can adopt several defense strategies and present them on your behalf. Some of the common defenses include:
No Fear or Force Involved
One of the elements of the crime of carjacking is the use of fear or force to make the victim give in to your demands. You may threaten the victim by causing harm to him or her. You may also inflict fear of damage to the victim's family and property. If you prove that you did not use fear or force while taking the vehicle from the victim, you cannot be guilty of carjacking under PC 215. For instance, you may see a good car in the gas filling station. You notice that the vehicle owner is standing outside but has left the engine running. You walk over to the vehicle, enter, and drive off without threatening the owner. In this case, you may not be guilty of carjacking because you did not apply fear or force while taking the vehicle. Instead, you might get charges for a less severe crime like the crime of joyriding or grand theft auto.
You had the Permission to Take the Vehicle
You may also fight carjacking charges by asserting that you had the consent or permission of the victim to take the car. One of the elements of the crime of carjacking is taking a vehicle against the will of the occupant. The vehicle occupant may be the driver or passengers; it does not have to be the vehicle owner.
A person may allow you to borrow his or her vehicle and return it at an agreed time. Upon receiving the car, you fail to return it on time, and the owner accuses you of carjacking. In this case, you are not guilty of carjacking because you had the consent of the owner to take the vehicle. You might get charges for alternative crimes like grand theft auto or joyride. These crimes are less severe than the crime of carjacking, and the associated penalties are less detrimental.
False Accusation and Mistaken Identity
One of the leading causes of wrongful carjacking convictions in the U.S is mistaken identification. The crime of carjacking is threatening and may alter the ability of the victim to recall the features of the perpetrators of the crime. Therefore, the victim may identify the wrong suspect concerning the crime.
Many carjacking suspects are victims of misidentification or wrong accusations. You may have the same physical features or resemblance with the perpetrator leading to wrongful identification. In deciding the case of wrongful identification, the court may organize a line-up. This allows questioning the ability of the victim to remember and identify the suspect. Your attorney may also seek the services of an eyewitness identification expert witness to help outline why the victim's identification may be inaccurate.
Vehicle not Taken from Immediate Person of Occupant
For you to be guilty of carjacking, you must take a car from the immediate person or presence of the person who owned the vehicle. If you took possession of the vehicle outside the immediate person or presence of the victim, you might not be guilty of carjacking. However, you should note that if you take a car from the direct person or presence of a passenger, you will be guilty of carjacking. The carjacking victim does not necessarily have to be the owner of the vehicle.
It is important to note that you may be guilty of carjacking even when you are the owner of the vehicle. In carjacking cases, the claim of right is not a valid legal defense. The law does not allow you to use fear or force to regain the ownership of a vehicle even as the rightful owner. According to California law, carjacking is a crime of possession and not ownership.
Several offenses in California are closely associated with the crime of carjacking. The court may charge you with the related crimes alongside carjacking or carjacking. Some of the associated crimes include:
Grand Theft Auto
The California PC 487 (d) (1) outlines the crime of grand theft auto. Commonly abbreviated as GTA, grand theft auto differs from the crime of carjacking in two ways. Unlike carjacking, grand theft auto does not require the defendant to use fear or force when obtaining the vehicle. The intention of the defendant in committing the two offenses differs. In the case of a carjacking, the defendant may intend to deprive the victim of the vehicle temporarily or permanently. In the case of grand theft auto, the defendant has the intention of depriving the victim of the car forever.
The crime of grand theft is a wobbler offense, and the prosecutor may charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor will consider several factors when deciding whether to charge the crime as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor will examine the facts of your case, including the severity of the crime. The prosecutor will also consider your criminal history. If you are a repeat offender, the prosecutor is likely to assign felony charges for the crime of grand theft auto.
For a misdemeanor crime of grand theft auto, you will serve jail time of up to one year in county jail. The court may also order you to pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. If the prosecutor convicts of felony grand theft auto, you may serve an imprisonment of up to four years in a California state prison. If the crime involves a vehicle worth more than $65,000, you may serve an additional two year's imprisonment making the imprisonment period six years. For a felony crime of grand theft auto, you may pay a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Auto Theft or Joyriding
The crime of joyriding also goes by the name grand theft auto. You might face joyriding charges if you take another person's vehicle and drive it without the consent of the owner. This crime does not require you to have the intention of depriving the owner of the vehicle permanently. The crime does not also require you to use fear or force to acquire the car from the owner. The necessary element of the crime is taking a vehicle that does not belong to you.
According to California law, the crime of joyriding is a wobbler, which may attract felony or misdemeanor charges. If you receive misdemeanor charges, you will serve jail time of up to one year in a California jail. If you receive felony charges, you will serve imprisonment in a California state prison for up to three years. The court may order you to pay a fine that does not exceed $5,000. If you joyride a police vehicle, ambulance, or a fire truck, you may serve an imprisonment of up to four years in a California state prison. The court may also order you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.
Kidnapping during a Carjack
You may commit the crime of kidnapping alongside the crime of carjacking. You will face kidnapping charges if you drive away with the driver or passengers of a vehicle while carjacking. For you to get charges for the aggravated kidnapping during a carjacking, it should be evident that you moved the occupied vehicle for a distance. The distance should be more than the length incidental to the carjacking. The prosecutor also has to prove that the movement posed a danger of harm to the victim.
According to California PC 209.5, the crime of kidnapping while carjacking is an aggravated/enhanced felony attracts a penalty of a life sentence. However, even after the life imprisonment sentence, you will have the possibility of parole if you commit the crime of carjacking and the crime of kidnapping while carjacking, the judge cannot charge you with the two crimes at the same time. He/she may choose to dismiss the crime of carjacking and charge you with the crime of kidnapping while carjacking, which has more severe penalties.
You might face robbery charges under PC 211. Robbery entails taking the property of another person without their consent. Carjacking is a form of robbery because it involves taking another person's vehicle without their permission. You may commit both the crime of robbery and carjacking at the same time. For instance, while taking another person's vehicle, you may also take away their valuables, including jewelry or money. However, you cannot get charges for robbery and carjacking at the same time. The law allows you to get charges for one offense at a time.
Contact a San Jose Criminal Attorney Near Me
The crime of carjacking is a serious offense under California law. The associated penalties are detrimental, making it essential to seek legal counsel and representation whenever you are facing charges. If you or your loved one is facing carjacking charges, California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you fight the charges. Contact us at 408-622-0204 for an evaluation of your case and legal representation.