The California Penal Code considers carjacking as a severe crime. There are many crimes associated with a carjacking offense. Anyone involved in a carjacking crime can end up getting harsh convictions due to the nature of the crime. However, with the right legal representation, there are high chances of getting a lesser charge and get necessary advisement as well. We at Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will provide the essential legal services that you need. However, you should understand various aspects related to carjacking crimes to know what you should do.

Definition of Carjacking Crime According to California Laws

According to California Penal Code 215, carjacking is a criminal act of taking a motor vehicle from another's possession, with the immediate presence of the person or passengers in the car against his or her will. It further provides that the intent of the action could either be permanent or temporary and done by employing fear or force to the person in possession of the vehicle.

Key Elements of the Offense

For a prosecutor to successfully convict a carjacking offender, one must prove the critical elements of the offense to make the prosecution valid. The vital aspects of the crime include:

Ownership and Immediate Presence

In a typical thought about carjacking, one pictures a person armed with a gun or knife, ordering someone to get out of his or her car. Once the carjacker possesses the vehicle, he or she and drives off, leaving the owner outside.

From that example, it is clear that the person possessing the car was within the presence of the driver during the incident. This means that the alleged victim was within reach, control, or observation of the vehicle.

Contrary to popular belief, the scope of vehicle ownership broadens based on the California Carjacking laws. In this case, it does not emphasize on ownership but possession. Therefore, it disregards the claim of the right during a defense. Even so, if someone forcibly took possession of your vehicle and regains its possession using force, such an act becomes a carjacking crime.

Such an instance seems similar to Grand Theft Auto (GTA). However, it is a carjacking crime as long as the offender employed fear over the person possessing the vehicle to take control of it.

You Took the Car Against the Will of the Person Possessing it

Taking a car from the possession of someone means that you took control of the vehicle and moved it despite how small the distance might be. Even though you were unable to drive the car, the prosecutor might proceed with the case against you if he or she proves other elements associated with the offense.

Possessing the vehicle against his or her will explains that your action was contrary to the victim's consent. The term consent means giving out something voluntarily and freely, without fear or force.

Employed Force or Fear

Based on the California Penal Code 215 PC. The term fear and force means the same thing. Most courts have withheld that the coercive effect resulting from threats to be a form of force.

However, the element of fear becomes satisfied soon after the victim complies with the unlawful demand from the offender. For that reason, the aspect becomes fulfilled as long as the use of force or fear was enough to overcome the victim's attempts to resist. This means that any efforts made by the victim to resist the unlawful demands do not negate the fact that the offender employed force or fear.

The element also applies even when the victim was unconsciously aware of the force used by the offender while possessing the vehicle. For instance, if the carjacking occurred with an unconscious or an infant in the car, the carjacking allegations still stand.

The Intention to Deprive Ownership

The California carjacking laws consider both temporary and permanently intention to deprive possession of a vehicle as carjacking offense. This is contrary to California's theft offenses that consider deprivation as a permanent act that denies the property for good. Therefore, the scope of depriving ownership stands whether you did it to sell, keep it to yourself, or borrow for a short time.

Penalties for Carjacking Crimes

Since carjacking crimes fall under the California Penal Code 215 PC, the offense is considered a felony. Therefore, it is punishable with all penalties related to a felony which are:

  • Jail time of up to one year in county jail followed by probation
  • Three, five, or nine years of imprisonment in the state prison with a maximum fine amounting to $ 10, 000

Note that the offender faces the punishment for each victim present in the car during the carjacking. Therefore, the offender faces stiffer penalties if the people present in the vehicle during the carjacking were more than one.

Besides that, there are additional penalties that apply depending on specific circumstances surrounding the carjacking event. The circumstances surrounding the carjacking acts are considered as a sentencing enhancement since they increase the necessary sentence used in a felony. Some of the common sentencing enhancements include:

Extensive Body Injuries

If the offender caused substantial injuries to the person possessing the vehicle during the carjacking, California Penal Code 12022.7 PC imposes a sentence enhancement. The offender gets an additional six- years imprisonment besides the conviction that applies for the carjacking offense. 

Carjacking in Association with a Criminal Street Gang

If the prosecutor proves that the act of carjacking was directed, associated, or intended to benefit a criminal street act, the offense becomes part of California's gang laws. According to the Penal Code 186.22 PC California's Criminal Street Gang Enhancement, the offender gets an automatic fifteen years of imprisonment besides the carjacking penalties.

Armed with a Gun

If the defendant had a firearm during the carjacking act, he or she risks an additional three-year-imprisonment in state prison. However, the defendant faces 20 years' imprisonment if he or she fired the gun and 25 years for killing or seriously injuring the person possessing the vehicle.

All these enhancement sentences apply in additional and consecutively to the sentence received under the penal 215 C offenses.

Committed a Felony Offense Three Times

California laws consider carjacking as a violent crime. Therefore, if the offender has previous felony charges, the offense falls under California's three-strike law. The law suggests that if you get a felony charge, and had previously had a similar charge, the offender becomes a second striker. When you get a third charge, you become a third striker.

The sentence for a third striker is a mandatory 25-year-imprisonment in state prison. The offender must serve a minimum of 85% to become eligible for parole.

Killed the Victim During the Carjacking

If during the event of carjacking, you or your accomplice unintentionally killed a person, California's felony-murder rules automatically apply, holding you liable for first-degree murder. The offense still stands if the victim did not necessarily die during the carjacking. However, if the victim succumbs to injuries sustained during the incident or as a result of the incident, the felony murder rules still apply. For instance, if the victim died out of a heart attack suffered from stress resulting from the event, the case still stands as first-degree murder.

If you are an Alien or Legal Immigrant

Since the Penal Code 215 considers carjacking as an aggravated felony, you might end up being deported or removed from the country if you are an immigrant or an alien.

Defenses for Carjacking Charges 

Although carjacking is a severe felony, according to the Penal Code 215 C, there are possible defenses that an alleged carjacker can use. A reasonable attorney should know how to apply the legal defenses and present on your behalf to reduce your sentence or win your case. Some of the possible defense that an attorney can use in a carjacking case include:

  1. The Car Owner Gave consent to Control of the Vehicle

By definition, carjacking requires the offender to take possession of the car against the will of the person possessing it. Therefore, if your attorney proves that you took the vehicle with the consent from its owner, then you will be free from carjacking convictions.

If a car owner accuses you of carjacking, yet, he or she agreed to give you his or her vehicle, but you failed to return it within the agreed time, the accusation is invalid since there was no force used in the process.

  1. There Was No Immediate Presence of the Person Possessing the Vehicle

To validate a carjacking claim, the accused must have taken possession of the vehicle within the immediate presence of its owner. However, if the act was outside the immediate proximity of the possessor or owner, the incident does not count as carjacking.

  1. Mistaken Identity

Mistaken identification is a common cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. In a carjacking event, the victim gets detracted from the average ability to identify the perpetrator correctly. Therefore, you might end up being misidentified as the offender if you match the physical description of the delinquent.

In such a case, the attorney might request for a lineup to identify the real delinquent from people who have similar looks to the actual perpetrator. The attorney might also seek to question the witness and the ability of the victim to identify the offender correctly.

  1. There was no Use of Fear when Taking Possession over the Vehicle

A valid carjacking offense requires the offender to use force or fear when possessing another person's vehicle. For instance, if you admired the plaintiff's car, noticed the keys inside the car, got in, and sped off, your actions show you never imposed fear or force during the act.

Such an instance might be a useful element of defense when accused of a carjacking crime. However, it does not entirely make you innocent since you took possession of the vehicle without the consent of its owner.

Note that taking possession of a vehicle without consent or within a distant range of its owner makes you guilty of a lesser offense. This is so even if your actions fail to meet the requirements of a carjacking offense. Such actions fall under other crimes related to carjacking, such as joyriding and grand theft auto.

Besides, you should note that claiming ownership of the vehicle does not make you innocent of a carjacking crime. You are eligible for a carjacking offense as long as you used force to regain possession of your car, whether partially or fully yours. This is as a result of California criminal laws that do not consider carjacking as a crime based on possession rather than ownership.

Statute of Limitations in Carjacking Lawsuits

Statute of limitations explains the period that a case must take before the court considers it invalid for commencing. The law applies immediately after the alleged crime. The time limit protects the alleged offender with the rationale that it is quite hard to defend yourself if much time has passed away after an alleged crime. The limits also stand because it is hard to punish someone if a considerable period has passed away after the behavior. However, certain crimes do not have any statute of limitations, providing no time limitation that a plaintiff can take to file for a case.

Since a carjacking crime falls under criminal actions, the statute of limitations that applies falls under felony charges. Most felony charges take a window of 3 and 4 years unless there are underlying circumstances related to the crime. For instance, if one of the crimes is related to carjacking, such as grand theft auto, there are chances of getting a shorter time limit of 1 year if the case is a misdemeanor. However, aggravating carjacking crimes that resulted in assaulting, battery, or kidnapping can lead to a time limit between 3 to 6 years.

In some exceptional cases, if the plaintiff was a minor below the age of 18, the statute of limitations does not apply until the victim attains 18 years of age. Note that the victim assumes all the rights in the law of limitation besides waiting to reach the required period.

Also, if the perpetrator went into hiding for a certain period after committing the offense, the law stalls the statute until the suspect gets apprehended. For instance, if you, as an alleged carjacker, went into hiding for a year after the incident, you will get an additional one year besides the required timeline.

 A professional attorney can use the time limitation to your advantages if you are an alleged suspect. Nevertheless, the plaintiff must take more time to file the case against the required timeline.

Other Crimes Associated with Carjacking

Based on the circumstances surrounding a carjacking process, there are different types of crimes that a prosecutor can charge you in addition to the carjacking offense. Some of the common crimes related to carjacking include: 


As long as you took someone else's property by force or fear, you become liable for a robbery offense under the Penal Code 211 California's robbery law. Carjacking is a form of robbery, although the Penal Code 215 issues the penalties for such crimes. However, carjacking carries a maximum of 9 years of prison imprisonment, whereas theft carries 5.

There are chances of committing both carjacking and robbery crimes when an offender forcefully takes another property from the person possessing the vehicle and drives off. For a conviction penalizing both robbery and carjacking, California laws permit punishment for one offense while casting the other aside.

Grand Theft Auto "GTA" 

Stealing a car violates the California penal code 487(d)(1) PC Grand Theft Auto law. However, there is a significant difference between the GTA and carjacking. In GTA, the offender does not use force or fear to possess the vehicle. Also, the offender does not possess the car within the immediate presence of its possessor or owner.

The California laws consider GTA as a wobbler. In such a case, the prosecutor can charge you with a felony or misdemeanor. This depends on your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the offense.

A misdemeanor conviction can lead to one year of imprisonment in county jail and a maximum fine of $ 10, 000. However, for a felony charge, you can face imprisonment of up to four years in state prison with an additional two years if the vehicle is worth more than $ 65,000. It also carries a maximum fine of $ 10,000.

Auto Burglary

Auto burglary crimes occur when an offender forces himself or herself into another's person's vehicle when it is locked. The crime is also a wobbler offense carrying a one-year county jail imprisonment and or a maximum of three years in state prison.

Auto Theft or Joyriding

Contrary to carjacking, joyriding involves taking the vehicle from its possessor without the intent of permanently depriving it of him or her. Also, the offender does not apply fear or force to possess the car.

The law provides this to be a wobbler crime, although most prosecutions are a misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, you can face one-year jail time in county jail. However, for a felony charge, you can end up facing three years of state prison imprisonment, including a maximum of $ 5,000 fine. However, if the offense involved vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks, or ambulances, the penalty can extend up to 4 years and a fine that amounts up to $ 10,000.


Penal Code 209.5 explains carjacking as an act of driving away with a forcefully possessed car with its owner, driver, or passenger inside. The offense can become aggravated if the vehicle moved a substantial distance similar to carjacking, or the movement increased the possibilities of harming the victim.

Based on California's kidnapping laws, anyone convicted of violating the Penal Code faces imprisonment for up to 8 years.  However, in aggravated kidnapping that led to injuries or demand for ransom, the offender faces life imprisonment.

The California laws also consider kidnapping as a strike in the three-strike law.  The law subjects the offender to severe sentences once he or she commits the crime once more. If one is found guilty for the first time, one risks imprisonment within the provided timeline. For a second offense, the offender becomes eligible for a double sentence.  A second strike offender has to serve at least 85% of the sentence to become eligible for early release or probation. In the third offense, the offender risks life imprisonment without parole.

 Similar to the robbery crimes, the judge can only prosecute you with one offense dismissing other convictions. In this case, the judge will convict you of kidnapping rather than carjacking.


Battery occurs when a carjacking offender violently pushes the driver or passenger out of the seat. It also occurs when one forcibly removes the person or people inside the vehicle. In such a case, the prosecutor will charge you with battery based on the California Code 242 PC, Assault and Battery laws. The crime is a misdemeanor and subjects the offender to a maximum of six months of imprisonment.

However, if the carjacker inflicted severe injuries on the victim using a deadly weapon, he or she faces assault with a deadly weapon or battery with serious bodily injury charges. This crime is a wobbler and may subject the offender with an additional four-year state imprisonment sentence.

Find a Orange County Criminal Attorney Law Firm Near Me

There are many aspects related to a carjacking allegation. Unless you find the right legal representation, you might end up charged with a harsher sentence that does not match the kind of crime you have committed. For that reason, you need to seek help from an attorney who can help you with your case. Here at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we provide the best legal services based on our vast team of experienced attorneys. Reach out to us today at 714-740-7848 to schedule a consultation and learn more about us.