Carjacking is a robbery in which the item stolen is an automobile. It is usually done in a forceful or violent manner, which causes the owner/driver of the car to give it up to the robber. It may be done with or without a weapon, and the offender may expel the owner from the car, or may force them to remain inside as the offender takes control of the vehicle.

Carjacking offenders often create situations designed to trick car owners into allowing them access. For instance, an offender may pretend to have had an accident, try to bump the victim’s car, flash their lights or otherwise create a situation in which the victim stops to assist them.

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What are the Elements of Carjacking?

While the charge of carjacking is specific and varies from state to state, in general the following elements must exist:

  1. The defendant took a motor vehicle they did own;
  2. The vehicle was taken from the immediate presence of the person driving or passenger;
  3. The vehicle was taken against the will of the owner/driver;
  4. The defendant used fear or force to take the vehicle; and
  5. When the defendant took it they intended to permanently deprive the owner/driver of the vehicle.

Some jurisdictions will require that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm. The federal charge of carjacking requires that the car has been shipped, transported, or taken across state lines.

How is Carjacking Different from Grand Theft Auto?

Both crimes involve the theft of a car, but the elements that make up the crime according to the law differ.

Grand theft auto, however, does not require that the offender commit violence against the victim in order to establish the crime. In this case, the elements of the crime are that the offender took a car belonging to someone else, without that person (the victim’s) permission, and with the intent to deprive them of it permanently.

What are the Likely Consequences of Being Charged with Carjacking?

Overall, carjacking is a federal crime. According to the federal statute, the prison sentence, if convicted of carjacking, can range from 15 years to life. The length of the sentence will also depend upon whether the victim of the carjacking was injured or killed. The death penalty may be a possible consequence, if the carjacking victim died as a result of the crime.

Each state in the U.S. considers carjacking to be a felony offense. Some states also have carjacking-specific statutes of their own, which may alter the elements of the crime, as well as the punishment, according to the state. However, due to the nature of motor vehicles, it is typical for a person to be charged with carjacking based on federal law.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

If you are charged with carjacking, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. It is a serious crime with serious consequences, and an attorney can help you navigate the legal system as you face these charges.