Carjacking is when a person uses the threat of bodily harm to force the victim to give up a motor vehicle. The victim doesn’t need to be driving or own the car, so that means passengers can also be victims of a carjacking.

What are the Legal Elements of Carjacking?

Carjacking is both a federal crime and a state crime. This means that each state has its laws on carjacking, but the federal government can also bring charges. While the state carjacking laws can vary, they tend to require the following elements:

  1. Taking of a motor vehicle;
  2. In the possession or presence of another;
  3. Against their will;
  4. With intent to permanently or temporarily deprive them of possession; and
  5. Used force, fear, or threat of immediately bodily harm.

The only difference between federal and state will often be that a federal charge of carjacking requires that the motor vehicle was “…transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce…” by the victim.
In other words, if the motor vehicle was driven, transported, or purchased across state lines (and from companies that ship cars to the United States), then it can qualify as a federal crime.

What are the Penalties for a State Charge of Carjacking?

Each state has unique penalties for carjacking. For example, in New York it is a felony offense and the penalty depends on whether they used a deadly weapon or the victim was injured. If the defendant used a deadly weapon or caused serious harm, then they can face up to 25 years in prison.

But if they injured the victim and only used what “appeared” to be a deadly weapon (like a finger in a jacket pocket to look like a gun), then they can face up to 15 years in prison. If they didn’t use a deadly weapon and the victim wasn’t injured, then the defendant can face up to 7 years.

But in California, the State law declares carjacking to be punishable by three, five, or nine years in prison. The defendant can also be forced to pay up to $10,000 in fines or face probation/one year in jail. However, if the carjacking was gang related or the defendant discharged a firearm in the process then they can face further penalties.

What are the Penalties for Federal Charge of Carjacking?

If you have been charged with federal carjacking, then you can face up to 15 years in a federal prison, along with a fine of up to $250,000. But if someone faced serious bodily harm during the carjacking (not just the victim but a bystander) then you can face up to 25 years in prison.

But if a person is killed during the carjacking, even if you took the car and sped away from the victim only to hit a pedestrian, then you can face life in prison or the death penalty.

Should You Hire a Lawyer If You’ve Been Charged with Carjacking?

If you have been charged with carjacking, whether federal or state charges, then it is in your best interest to hire a local criminal defense attorney. Carjacking is a serious crime and, as you can see, it carries serious consequences. If you want to lessen the penalties or fight the charges, then you will need the help of a lawyer to maximize your chances of success.