A carjacking incident is horrific and can leave you and your family traumatized for many years to come. California carjacking law, Penal Code 215 PC, defines carjacking as the use of violence or fear to dispossess someone of his/her car. It entails taking the vehicle away from the victim's immediate use or reach without his/her consent for a long or short time through force or fear. The manifestation of violence or threat in committing the above crime will breach the law and are enough grounds to see you convicted in a court of law.

Grappling with the aftermath of your carjacking actions can be a tough situation to handle by yourself, and you may not know how to navigate through the legal process. If you are facing carjacking charges, do not languish in jail helplessly. Engage our Orange County Criminal Lawyer early enough upon arrest and during investigations. We will prepare a strong defense for you by exploring all legal defense options available to safeguard your rights.

What's a Carjacking Crime in California?

According to the California Penal Code 215, carjacking is the criminal act of taking control of a car from another person or taking it away from his/her immediate reach. Carjacking involves taking the automobile without the victim's consent but with a motive to dispossess him/her of the vehicle for an indefinite or short time by use of force or by instilling fear. In this context, force means that you physically take control or purport to take control of the car. Also, if you introduce or purport to instill fear of inflicting bodily harm or injury on the car's occupants to facilitate your carjacking pursuit.

If you are facing carjacking charges, you may end up in prison for up to nine years. The jail sentences might be harsher if you use a gun. Carjacking is a serious felony, and if the judgment goes against you, the conviction can result in a strike under the three-strike law. Consulting with our Orange County Criminal Lawyer will help you to circumvent some of these likely sentences.

Elements of Car-jacking that the Prosecutor Should Prove to Convict You

The prosecutor must prove successfully in court that:

  • Someone possessed the car
  • Your motive was to deprive the victim of the car for a long or short time
  • You took the car from the victim by force or instilled fear to avert his/her defense
  • You took the car from the victim's immediate proximity
  • You took the car without the victim’s consent

Let's delve further into the above elements.

  1. Possession and Immediate Proximity

Ideally, the car should be with the owner so that he/she can make use of it at his/her convenience. Therefore, if you forcefully take the motor vehicle from the owner, such that it's not within his/her immediate reach or availability, this is enough reason for carjacking charges. Also, if he/she cannot keep an eye on it nor have control over it, then this is sufficient ground for a carjacking felony. It's not necessary that the car owner is inside or driving the car when you take the vehicle forcefully from him/her. It can happen that he/she had left it in the parking lot. Upon return, he/she finds you driving the car away and manages somehow to get onto the vehicle. While in the car, he/she persuades you to return the automobile to their possession, but you threaten them, and they fear for their life, which prompts them to jump off, and you drive away with the car. Whereas this scenario may come across as car theft, it gets an element of carjacking the moment you resort to intimidation to be able to drive away with the car.

  1. You Used Force or Instilled Fear

According to the California Penal Code 215 PC, force and fear are the same. The fear instilled in the victim to the extent that the victim believes that there is imminent violence on him/her, close relatives, or property has the same repercussions as a force. The fact that the victims believe that harm will come his/her way if he/she doesn't comply with your instructions as per violence or fear instilled by you meet the threshold for force and fear elements.

Where the victim put up some resistance to thwart your carjacking crime, his/her effort will not water down the fact that you employed violence. More importantly, the victim doesn't have to be mentally aware that you are carjacking the car while he/she is in it. A good example will be where a critically ill victim is in the vehicle when the carjacking crime occurs. However, he/she doesn't know what is happening around them because of the state of their health.

  1. You Took the Car Without His/Her Consent

Carjacking entails taking control of the vehicle and driving away without the owner’s consent. If it turns out that you were unable to drive the motor vehicle away for any reason, the prosecutor can still press carjacking charges based on the elements of carjacking. "Without consent" means that the victims relinquished the car without his/her consent because he/she was under siege from the violence you applied or feared.

However, if the car owner doesn't hand over his/her vehicle willingly, then the threshold for carjacking is met. Where the car owner gives you the car, he/she cannot accuse you later for taking the automobile without his/her consent.

  1. The Motive to Dispossess the Car

Unlike the other general laws in California on theft that look for a motive to steal an item for good, carjacking laws check for motive to keep the carjacked car for the long or short-term. It's immaterial if you plan to use the car shortly and discard it, keep it long enough and even sell it as the carjacking threshold still suffices.

Carjacking Terminologies Explained

The word 'take' in this context refers to the instance you remove the car from the owner and take it away. The length of distance, in this case, doesn't matter because either long or short meets the element for carjacking. The prosecutor doesn't need to prove that you came into contact with the car. The fact that he/she can prove that you had control of the vehicle personally or through a third party is enough ground for carjacking charges.

The word 'fear' means the victim is afraid of impending bodily harm on him/her, his/her family, or to his/her property if he/she doesn't comply with your instructions during the incident. The expression "within immediate reach/use" means the car is in the proximity of the owner if an occurrence like carjacking does not occur.

Penalties and Punishments for Car-jacking in the State of California

Under the California law Penal Code 215 PC, Car-jacking constitutes a felony which can see you convicted for up to 9 years in prison. Besides, the severity of the sentence may increase if you:

  • Take the occupant(s) hostage in the course of the carjacking incident
  • Carry out the crime for the gain of a group of thugs, or
  • Inflict injuries
  • Unleash a firearm on the affected person

Furthermore, carjacking falls under California’s Three-Strikes Law. The three-strikes stipulate that you must spend 85% of your jail term in prison before you can apply to be released early on account of ethical conduct while in jail.

Where Penal Code 215 PC violations occur, the following punishments are applicable:

  • Test period where the court scrutinizes your conduct in addition to a county jail sentencing running for up to a year, or
  • A fine of $10,000 or a jail term in a county jail ranging from three, five or nine years

You are subjected to the above sentences for every occupant in the car at the time you carry out carjacking. Furthermore, these punishments can increase due to several convictions related to carjacking under certain instances. The most prominent sentences are imposed in the following situations:

  1.  Severe Injury Inflicted

Where during your carjacking incident, you inflict significant bodily injury on the victim, then California Penal Code 12022.7 PC slaps you with a jail sentence. The sentence ranges from three-to-six years on top of the punishment you get for carjacking conviction.

  1. California Illegal Street Gangs Increment

Under the California Penal Code 186.22 PC, if the prosecutor can prove that you carried out the carjacking offense for the sake of a criminal street gang, then the California Gang enhancement comes in. Also, if you are under encouragement or cooperate with the street gangs, the consequences are the same. Sentencing under Penal Code 186.22 PC will subject you further to an additional jail sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment on top of the carjacking penalties. 

  1. California's 10-20-Life Use a Gun, and You're Done Law

In line with Penal Code 12022.53 PC, you're liable to ten years jail term for using a gun,20 years for opening fire from your weapon, and 25 years to a life jail term for murdering or maiming the victim with a firearm during the carjacking incident. This sentence is in addition to the conviction that you get for a carjacking offense.

  1. California Three Strikes Law

Carjacking is considered a brutal crime. On top of the first three discussed above, a carjacking conviction will end up in a 'Strike' that will dent your criminal history as per the law of the California three strikes.

It follows that for you to qualify for early release from prison, you first must spend 85% of your jail term in prison. Where you are convicted later for another crime while having a prior strike, you'll have two strikes, and your sentence doubles. If you get a third conviction, and you already have two previous strike convictions, you'll become a third striker. You will be required to serve your compulsory jail term of at least 25 years to a life sentence in prison.

  1. California Crime-Murder Rule

If carjacking causes the death of the victim inadvertently due to your actions or of your partner in crime, then you will be held responsible for first-degree murder.

  1. Immigration and Deportation

Carjacking is a serious felony. Conviction from carjacking can see you lose some rights as a resident because it may end up in deportation if you are not a Citizen. Carjacking is a complicated situation to find yourself in because; first, you are in jail, and second you are staring at possible deportation. Do not languish in jail helplessly. Contact our team, who will look at possible mitigative defenses to ensure that you get a fair hearing. More importantly, we will ensure that your charges do not compromise your immigration status.

Available Defenses to Carjacking Crimes in California

Mistaken Identity

Unfortunately, because of the trauma that comes with carjacking incidents, it's likely to be mistaken for another person because the victim is confused and temporarily not composed mentally. It's advisable, therefore, that you swiftly seek legal assistance to mitigate the situation and salvage your integrity.

 If you were arrested by mistake because of resembling the suspect, kindly consult us. We'll help you to establish grounds for rebuffing the carjacking criminal case against you in court. The lawyer will, among other things, explore the possibility of asking for a parade identification of the suspects. Besides, he/she can punch holes into the victim's mental ability to remember the culprit's appearance, where there is evidence of disorientation on the part of the victim following the carjacking ordeal.

The Car Owner Gave You His/Her Consent

Where the car owner permits you to use his/her car, and you fail to return it to him/her at the agreed time, he/she cannot accuse you of carjacking. The reasoning is that you did not take it against his/her wish. However, he/she can file a charge for other less grave offenses like car theft.

You Didn't Apply Fear or Force

Where you take off in another person's car without his/her knowledge, this will not amount to carjacking because the elements of carjacking do not feature. However, the car owner is justified in suing you for car theft-related charges.


If you did not have the motive before or during carjacking to take the car away until you used force or fear, then you are not guilty of carjacking.

Car Ownership Doesn't Entitle You to Defense

Being the owner of the car doesn't permit you to kick someone out of your vehicle. Similarly, it doesn't allow you to use force or instill fear in him/her to get back the car from him/her. The reason for this is because, under California law, a carjacking incident is anchored on possession and not ownership. 

Car Was Not Taken From The Owner's Immediate Reach/Use

If you do not take the vehicle away from the owner's immediate reach/use, you cannot face carjacking charges. Seeking counsel from a criminal attorney may see your carjacking punishment reduced.

Crimes Associated With Carjacking

Often, when a carjacking incident occurs, other related crimes arise. The prominent crimes related to carjacking are as follows:

  1. Abduction During Carjacking

Penal Code 209.5 PC entails abduction charges during the carjacking process. Where during the carjacking, you drive the car while passengers are on board, you can face kidnapping charges. This abduction offense is specific to carjacking, and its parameters are as follows:

  • You transfer the victim to a far distance than in the case of an ordinary carjacking incident
  • The transportation of the victim increases his/her risks

When you face these kidnapping charges, you are liable for a life sentence with probable parole. Just like with robbery, you cannot answer to both charges of kidnapping during carjacking and carjacking concurrently. The court will drop carjacking and charge you with abduction, which is more severe. A criminal lawyer can advise you on various defenses to your kidnapping charges.

  1. Robbery

According to Penal Code 211 PC, when you pick an item from someone that is stashed on his/her body or from his/her control by force or fear, then you are guilty of robbery. In a nutshell, carjacking is stealing someone’s car, but the laws are harsher for carjacking than with theft. Robbery sentences are in the range of 2 to 5 years, whereas carjacking attracts a maximum sentence of 9 years in jail. Where you are facing both robbery and carjacking charges, the court will sentence you with one offense and drop the one.

  1. Grand Theft Auto

If you steal a car, you contravene Penal Code 487 (d) (1) PC relating to Grand theft car law. The primary differences between Grand theft auto and carjacking is that:

  • While the carjacking motive is to take the car possession for a short or long term, grand theft auto's motivation is to steal the car for good
  • Grand theft auto does not have force or fear elements

However, the prosecutor is at liberty to file grand theft auto as a felony or as a misdemeanor on account of the following:

  • Your criminal record, and
  • The conditions that are prevailing during the occurrence of the crime

 Where the judge settles on a misdemeanor offense, the sentence is up to one year and comes with a fine of $1,000.However, where the judge arrives on a felony sentence, you can be in jail for up to 4 years plus a top fine of $ 10,000 where the car is worth more than $ 65,000.

  1. Car Burglary

Where the car's doors are secured, and you break into the vehicle to facilitate your carjacking action, the court will charge you with a car burglary offense. Car burglary attracts up to one year sentence in county jail and up to three years in state prison.

  1. Battery

Also, you can face additional charges of battery where you physically bundle out or force the driver onto the passenger seat and drive away. According to Penal Code 242 PC, battery is a misdemeanor that attracts a full limit jail sentence of six months. If you cause grievous bodily injuries on the victim through a gun or any other weapon during the carjacking, you will face an additional prison sentence of 4 years in state prison. The charges will be "beating with grievous bodily injuries or assault with a lethal weapon."

  1. Car Theft/Joyriding

Also known as auto theft, joyriding is similar to Grand Theft auto. It occurs when you illegally take away a car that doesn't belong to you. In this case, you do not have the motive to hold onto the vehicle for good, and you don't use violence or fear during the carjacking. If the judge convicts you of a misdemeanor, the jail sentence is up to one year in county jail.

On the other hand, if the judge convicts you for felony charges, the sentence comes with a full conviction of three years in state prison and a total limit fine of $5,000. Similarly, the penalty could run for up to four years in state prison and comes with a top fine of $10,000 if the car involved is a police car, a fire vehicle, or an ambulance.

Contact a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Carjacking is a serious felony and sometimes comes with other incidental severe misdemeanors like kidnapping, robbery, joyriding, auto burglary, battery, and Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Finding your way out of carjacking charges while being incarcerated and not having full access to your family can be very challenging. If a family member, friend, or you are facing Penal Code 215 PC carjacking charges, and you are looking to engage a criminal lawyer for representation. We welcome you to contact our team at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer at 714-262-4833. We'll mount a water-tight defense to help you reduce the many likely sentences.