Carjacking is the offense of taking a motor vehicle from the possession of another, against his will and with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the person of possession of the motor vehicle, accomplished by means of force or fear.

Carjacking Involves Force or Fear:
Carjacking is the offense of threatening the owner, driver or any occupant of a car and forcing them against their will to surrender the car to the thief.
If the driver of the car is threatened by an individual who points a gun at the driver and says “Get out,” obviously the driver was forced against his will under threat of bodily harm.
If the thief is able to assert force or fear in such a manner that the victim is threatened and relinquishes the vehicle, carjacking has occurred.

Carjacking v. Attempted Carjacking:
If the car is transported even slightly, carjacking has occurred.
If the thief cannot get the car to move, he may be charged with attempted carjacking.

California Penalty for Carjacking

  • Carjacking in California is a felony offense.
  • Prison – 3, 6 or 9 years – for each victim who was carjacked.
  • Fine – up to $10,000 – multiply by the number of victims who were carjacked
  • Additional penalties will apply if a firearm or weapon is used.
  • Under California’s 10-20-Life law, the thief can face an additional 10, 20 or 25 years for using or firing a gun and harming a victim.

Carjacking vs Grand Theft

  • Carjacking involves the use of fear or force.
  • Grand theft auto does not entail the use of force.
  • Grand theft auto entails permanently depriving the owner of the vehicle.
  • Carjacking only requires temporary (or permanent) thievery

Degrees of Carjacking, by Statute:

  • Some state statutes, such as New York’s, proscribe carjacking offenses in the first, second and third degrees.
  • Penalties increase as the degree of force, participation and danger increases

Defenses to Carjacking

  • Mistaken identity – alleged thief was not involved.
  • Force or fear was not used – if the thief steals the car without using force or fear, carjacking did not occur.
  • Under the above situation, the thief could be accused and convicted of grand theft auto.
  • Permission or consent – alleged thief had the permission of the owner to drive the vehicle.

Avoiding Carjacking – Don’t Be a Victim:
According to the U.S. Dept. of State, “Carjacking has become one of the most prevalent crimes in many parts of the world. Most carjackings occur for the sole purpose of taking the car…”

To avoid carjacking, be alert at all times and be aware of the environment.
The most likely places for a carjacking are:

  • High crime areas
  • Lesser traveled roads (rural areas)
  • Intersections where you must stop
  • Isolated areas in parking lots
  • Residential driveways and gates
  • Traffic jams or congested areas
  • Source: U.S. Dept. of State (cite is below)

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Michael S. Berg
Attorney At Law