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Best Defenses for Carjacking Charges

Posted by Sam Israels | Apr 09, 2022

California Penal Code 215 PC defines the felony offense of carjacking as taking a motor vehicle from somebody using force or fear. Under this law, the use of “force or fear” means the defendant has to inflict physical force or make threats to harm the victim.

Best Defenses for Carjacking Charges

PC 215 carjacking could be charged when the victim is the driver or passenger and does not have to own the vehicle.  A carjacking conviction will usually result in harsh penalties and count as a “strike” under California's three-strike law. Further, the carjacking punishments can be enhanced if a defendant:

  • used a weapon,
  • caused an injury, or
  • committed the crime to benefit a criminal street gang.

Typically, carjacking defendants will be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will take a closer look at the relevant laws below.

What is the Legal Definition of Carjacking?

Under California law, carjacking has several distinct elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 1650 that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Penal Code 215 PC legally defines carjacking as

  • “the felonious taking of a motor vehicle in possession of somebody in their immediate presence against their will, with intent to temporarily or permanently deprive their possession of the motor vehicle, accomplished using force or fear.”

From this definition, the criminal jury instructions draw from these elements, which means the prosecution must prove to support a carjacking charge and convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  • took a motor vehicle;
  • from the immediate presence of someone or being its passenger;
  • against their will;
  • used force or fear to take the vehicle or prevent any resistance;
  • defendant intended to deprive the possessor of the vehicle; and
  • defendant formed that intent before or during the use of force or fear.

What Are the Related California Crimes?

Federal law also defines carjacking but requires a defendant to have the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, a requirement absent under state carjacking charges.

What are the Penalties for a Carjacking Conviction?

A defendant who was convicted of carjacking will be facing the following penalties:

  • A maximum fine of $10,000,
  • three, five, or nine years in state prison, or
  • probation and up to one year in the county jail.

Penal Code 209.5 increases carjacking's penalty to life imprisonment, with parole, when the charge is that the defendant committed a kidnapping during a carjacking. Parole is discretionary by the parole board.  There are some sentencing enhancements listed below.

Penalties for a Carjacking Conviction

Great bodily injury - If the victim suffered a great bodily injury (GBI), the defendant faces an additional three to six years in prison under Penal Code 12022.7 PC great bodily injury enhancement.

Criminal street gang - Suppose the defendant committed the carjacking for the benefit of a criminal street gang. In that case, they face an additional fifteen years in prison under Penal Code 186.22 PC gang enhancement law.

Felony murder rule - California's felony-murder rule will hold them responsible for first-degree murder if the defendant unintentionally kills someone during a carjacking.

Three strikes law  - Carjacking is considered a violent felony crime. A conviction will result in a “strike” on a defendant's record under California's three-strikes law. Further, a conviction means a defendant must serve at least 85% of their sentence before they are eligible for parole.

“10-20-life use a gun and you're done law  - Penal Code 12022.53 PC is California's “10-20-life ‘use a gun and you're done” law. This means a defendant faces ten years in prison for using a gun, 20 years for firing a gun, and 25-years-to-life for causing serious injury or death.

How Can I Best Fight Carjacking Charges?

If you're facing Penal Code 215 PC carjacking charges, we can challenge the crucial elements of the crime on the facts of the case. Some common defenses include:

  • lack of force or fear,
  • mistaken identity,
  • false allegation,
  • consent by the victim.

Eyewitnesses often provide mistaken identifications and observations, exposed through cross-examination.  Carjacking charges could also bring up constitutional rights issues and criminal procedures that ensure due process, including the legal rights under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to counsel.

Defending Penal Code 215 PC Carjacking Charges

In some cases, it might be possible to make a motion to suppress evidence based on a violation of these rights. Criminal procedures also offer discovery, motions to dismiss, and other methods to obtain exonerating evidence while challenging and defeating false accusations.

If convicted of carjacking, you will be facing harsh penalties and numerous collateral consequences. We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges, a favorable plea bargain, or even an alternative to prosecution, such as early disposition court or pretrial diversion.

Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to persuade law enforcement and the prosecution from filing formal charges in the first place, known as a “DA reject.”

Cron, Israels & Stark is based in Los Angeles County and serves people in Southern California, including Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino. We offer a free case evaluation by calling 424-372-3112 or filling out our contact form.

About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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