What Are the Best Defenses for Carjacking Charges?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingJul 13, 2022

California Penal Code 215 PC defines the felony crime of carjacking as taking a motor vehicle from another person using force or fear. Under this law, using “force or fear” means using actual physical force or making threats to cause harm to the victim.

PC 215 can be filed by the prosecutor when the victim is the driver or passenger, and it's not required that they are the owner of the vehicle.

Best Defenses for Carjacking Cases

A carjacking conviction carries harsh punishments, including a “strike” under California's three-strike law. Further, the penalties can be enhanced under the following circumstances:

  • When a weapon was used to commit the crime,
  • If the defendant caused an injury to the victim,
  • If the crime was committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang.

Usually, a defendant will be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they are eligible for parole. California Penal Code 215 PC legally defines carjacking as

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

To convict someone of carjacking, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime listed under California Criminal Jury Instructions 1650.

PC 215 makes carjacking a felony crime punishable by three, five, or nine years in state prison, probation, and a fine of up to $10,000. Penal Code 209.5 increases the penalties to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole, when a kidnapping during a carjacking was committed.

Related California crimes include Penal Code 211 PC robbery and Penal Code 487(d)(1) PC grand theft auto. 18 U.S.C. § 2119 defines the federal carjacking law involving amotor vehicle shipped in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm.

Suppose the defendant caused anyone to suffer a great bodily injury (GBI)?  In that case, they face three to six years in prison under California Penal Code 12022.7 PC great bodily injury enhancement.

How Can You Avoid a Carjacking Conviction?

I've represented people in criminal defense cases for 30 years.  I've handled many carjacking and attempted carjacking cases throughout LA and surrounding counties.

How Can You Avoid a Carjacking Conviction?

One idea you want to come up with when it comes to a carjacking offense is to try to avoid the conviction for carjacking because it's a strike.  It's a violent felony.  You're typically going to have to go to prison, and you can't get it off your record.  If you're going to live in California, you'll have it on there forever. 

My first idea is to figure out how to get some other offense.  For example, Penal Code Section 487 PC is stealing a vehicle or theft. 

That's a felony.  It's a wobbler.  It can be reduced to a misdemeanor.  So, that would be a much better charge than having that carjacking conviction on your record.

Also, Vehicle Code Section 10851 is joyriding, taking a vehicle without the owner's permission.  That's not a strike.  That's something that you can get probation for, not have to go to jail or prison. 

Can the Prosecution Prove You Committed a Carjacking?

So, the first idea I would have is to try to get a different charge.  Of course, that assumes that you're guilty of the crime.  The next thing is to attack the crime itself by doing what's called a preliminary hearing

The prosecutors have to put on the evidence they have.  The defense gets to ask questions through a criminal defense attorney, and the judge ultimately decides whether or not the prosecutors have met the elements.

When we sit in my office, we're going to talk about whether or not they can prove that you or your loved one carjacked another person's car or attempted to carjack another person's car.  Another idea or angle you can use is to attack the charge itself and say the prosecutor has not met the elements of a carjacking.

Another way is to go to a jury trial.  If you can be proven not guilty, they don't have the evidence to prove that you carjacked somebody, then you can take care of it by having a jury find you not guilty, and then you don't have to worry about the case anymore.

Can You Negotiate the Case with the Prosecutor?

The final way is, if the prosecutors do have the goods on you and can prove the case against you, then you're going to have to have your attorney negotiate on your behalf:

  • put together a mitigation package with character letters, and
  • talk about what issues there might be with them proving the case if you think they might be able to prove it.

If there are problems of proof, that's certainly something the prosecutors will consider.

California Carjacking Defense Lawyer

If nobody got hurt, if there was no weapon used, these are all good things to mention by the criminal defense attorney to try to get rid of that carjacking charge and get a different charge as you're negotiating. Plus, you want to look at the person's criminal record:

  • Do they have any strikes on their record?
  • Have they gone to prison before?
  • Have they ever done something like this before?

If somebody has a clean record, they're already off to a good start trying to eliminate that strike you don't want to have on your record.

So, if you or a loved one is charged with carjacking or attempted carjacking, I've got all kinds of ideas depending on your case and who you are as a person.  You've got to come and sit down with me. 

Let me put my experience to work for you.  I've been doing this for 30 years.  I worked for the DA's office in 1992.  I worked for a superior court judge in 1993 and 1994; I became a criminal defense attorney and have handled thousands of cases since then.

So, if you need the best, if all the marbles are on the line and you're trying to avoid a strike, you're trying to avoid prison – whatever the case may be – pick up the phone now and ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. The Hedding Law Firm provides a free case review by phone or use the contact form.

Related Content: Consequences of a Carjacking Conviction