Carjacking is a type of vehicle theft that occurs when a perpetrator uses force or threats of force to steal a car while the driver is still in the car. Carjacking is a very serious criminal offense in all states, and conviction of carjacking carries serious legal penalties.
If the crime involves a vehicle that has crossed state or national borders, it is a federal criminal offense. The penalties for carjacking can be more severe, if there are aggravating factors, or if a conviction for the crime is not the perpetrator’s first criminal conviction.
What Penalties Can I Face for Carjacking?
Carjacking is usually classified as a felony, because it is more than theft of a vehicle, as it involves threatening to remove or removing a person from a vehicle. This is arguably a form of kidnapping. Some states treat it as a form of robbery. The penalties for this crime vary based on the laws of the state in which the crime is committed, as well as the degree of force that is used in commission of the crime. Some examples of penalties imposed for carjacking are the payment of hefty fines, a term of imprisonment, losing the right to vote and losing the right to own a firearm.
To qualify as a federal offense, the carjacking must be for a vehicle that was transported, shipped, or crossed state or national borders. Given that most vehicles are made out-of-state and many are purchased out-of-state due to lower pricing or tax considerations, a state criminal charge of carjacking can easily turn into a federal charge.
The crime and its penalties vary from state to state. Examples of how states treat the crime of carjacking are as follows:
Texas: In Texas, carjacking is the crime of forcibly taking possession of a vehicle from its owner or driver. Under Texas law, carjacking is usually prosecuted as a form of robbery, which means penalties for carjacking are the same as they would be for forcibly stealing any other property from another person.
The act of taking the vehicle must involve either the use or threat of physical violence, if the crime is to be characterized as carjacking. In Texas, carjacking is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in state prison. If a person is accused of using or exhibiting a deadly weapon to commit the crime, they could face a first-degree felony charge for carjacking, with penalties that can include life in prison.
New York: Carjacking is considered a violent crime in the state of New York. It is always charged as a felony. Carjacking may loosely be defined as stealing a car while a person is driving the car with the use of force or the threat of force such as a gun or a knife. Prosecutors in New York usually charge the perpetrators of carjackings with robbery. The common definition of robbery is intentionally and permanently depriving another person of their property without their consent, under the threat of force or the use of force.
There is no specific New York law addressing carjacking by that name. Stealing a motor vehicle is an aggravating factor in the crime of robbery. It increases a robbery charge from robbery in the third degree to robbery in the second degree, which is a degree of the crime that is punished more severely. In New York state, second degree robbery is a class C felony.
The maximum penalty for robbery in the second degree is 15 years in prison,and the mandatory minimum penalty is 3.5 years in state prison even for a first offender. This means that a judge must sentence a person to at least 3.5 years in prison even if the carjacking conviction is the person’s first offense.
Robbery in the second degree occurs when a person steals something from another person by means of the threat of force and:
- They are assisted by a second person who is personally present during the robbery; or
- During the crime or during the escape, a person either physically harms another person who was not involved in the robbery or displays what looks like a gun or other dangerous instrument; and
- The stolen property is a motor vehicle.
California: In California law, carjacking is defined as the taking of a motor vehicle, in the possession of another, from the person or in their presence, against their will and with the intent to deprive the person of the motor vehicle by the use of force or fear.
The punishment for carjacking in California is three, five, or nine years in a California state prison. But the judge has the discretion to sentence a person to probation instead of imprisonment based on the circumstances and a person’s criminal record.
However, a harsher sentence is also possible, if the person convicted of carjacking is a gang member or the victim suffered great bodily injury.
Moreover, armed carjacking qualified for California’s so-called “10-20-life” sentencing enhancement for gun crimes. As a result, a person who uses a gun to commit armed carjacking must serve a mandatory minimum of at least 10 years in prison. Actually firing a gun while committing an armed carjacking means a minimum of 20 years in prison. And if the perpetrator causes serious injury or kills someone by firing a gun while involved in a carjacking, they must serve at least 25 years in state prison and could be sentenced to a maximum term of life in prison.
Carjacking is a violent felony according to California’s “Three-Strikes” law. So a person’s sentence could be doubled for a carjacking conviction that counts as a second strike. And a third strike conviction brings a mandatory 25 years to life in prison.
Illinois: Carjacking in Illinois is defined as the use of force or the threat of force to steal another person’s vehicle. Carjacking is a Class 1 felony in Illinois, and if a person is convicted of the crime, they could face a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years.
A person can be charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking if they used a weapon or firearm or possessed a weapon or firearm while hijacking a vehicle. A person can also be charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking, if they take a car from a person who is under the age of 15, elderly, or disabled. The punishment for aggravated vehicular hijacking ranges from 7 years to life in prison. Conviction of aggravated vehicular hijacking can result in a prison sentence of 7 years to life.
If a person is convicted of the federal offense of carjacking, they may be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in federal prison, a fine of as much as $250,000, or both. If another person suffered serious bodily injury in the carjacking, the perpetrator may be sentenced to as many as 25 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both. If death occurs as a result of the carjacking, the person may face a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, a fine of $250,000 or both imprisonment and a fine.
What Can Make a Carjacking Sentence More Severe?
Legal penalties for carjacking will be more harsh, if certain aggravating factors are present that make the crime more severe. These factors include:
- Making use of a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime;
- Causing serious bodily injury or death to the victim or anyone else in the course of the carjacking;
- Creating a hostage situation by not allowing the victim to leave the car (in this situation the perpetrator could also be charged with kidnapping); and
- Having previous carjacking or auto-related felonies on a criminal record.
In addition, if a person is charged with another felony, such as assault with a deadly weapon or kidnapping when they are charged with a carjacking offense, the penalties imposed can be much harsher. As noted above, some states, such as California, also have a “three strikes” penalty law, which means that a perpetrator can face life in jail after conviction for a third felony offense.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Been Charged with Carjacking?
Carjacking is a crime that can lead to harsh punishment, such as years in a state or federal prison. If you have been charged with carjacking, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can help provide you with legal advice, and analyze the facts of your case. Your attorney can tell you where you stand and what your best strategy is going forward.