A carjacking offense is a common offense here, but most don’t know the repercussions of this charge conviction under the Penal Code. If you are subject to potential carjacking charges, proving your innocence should be your priority to avoid possible detrimental consequences of a conviction.

Retaining the services of a defense attorney who understands the gravity of the potential sentence you could face upon conviction for a carjacking charge is the key to be on the safe side of the law. Experienced defense attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney understand that your reputation and freedom are also in line if you are under arrest for a carjacking crime.

We can wittingly negotiate with the prosecutor using a wide range of defense strategies to drop or reduce the alleged carjacking charge against you to a less severe offense with less serious penalties, like joyriding.

An Overview of Carjacking Offense

Most people know how a carjacking offense occurs because these scenes are common in movies and that we watch, but there is much more to it. Typically, according to section 215 of the Penal Code, a carjacking offense involves taking of another person's motor vehicle without his/her consent using fear, intimidation, or force to accomplish your motive.

You would be subject to a carjacking charge under PC 215 even if the onboard person were not the vehicle owner as long as you had to use force, fear, or intimidation before driving off with the vehicle.

Although a carjacking offense might seem like a robbery, these offenses are different under the eyes of the law. Unlike a robbery offense, which involves taking another person's property permanently without his/her consent, taking another person's vehicle could be temporary or permanent in a carjacking offense.

Consulting a defense attorney upon arrest is critical to effectively investigate and build viable defense tactics to counter the alleged carjacking charge against you for the best possible results.

What You Should Expect During the Alleged Carjacking Case Trial

Although some cases may not reach this phase of the criminal justice system, sometimes you may have to defend the alleged carjacking case against you in a court hearing or proceeding known as a trial.

During this court hearing, the judge or a panel of jurors will expect the prosecutor and your attorney to prove their arguments beyond a reasonable doubt to determine whether you are guilty of PC 215 violation or not.

To that end, the prosecutor with the jurisdiction over your case will have a weighty evidentiary burden to prove particular elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction against you for PC 215 violation. The elements of crime in a carjacking charge include:

  • You did take a motor vehicle or automobile from the immediate presence of a driver or from the onboard passenger immediate presence
  • The taking of the vehicle in question was against the victim's consent or will
  • You had to force, fear, threats, or intimidation to prevent the person (driver or passenger) from resisting your acts to take the vehicle
  • You had the criminal intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the victim of the motor vehicle after driving off with it

Legal Terms and Phrases You Need to Understand in a Carjacking Charge

Understanding the following legal terms and phrases will give you an idea of what a carjacking charge is under the eyes of the law:

Immediate Presence and Possession

When you think of a carjacking crime, you typically envision someone aggressively ordering you to come out of your vehicle with a knife or gun on your head. Then, he/she takes your car keys and drives off with your vehicle. Under this scenario, it would be legal to say that the car was in your immediate presence and you had possession of it.

For the sake of PC 215, "immediate presence" means that the vehicle in question was within the victim's observation, reach or control, even if he/she was not inside it. That means he/she would continue retaining the car if he/she didn't sustain the fear of an imminent bodily injury or death.

Therefore, to obtain a conviction against you for PC 215 violation, the prosecutor must adequately prove to the court that the motor vehicle in question was in the immediate presence or possession of the victim.

The Taking of the Vehicle in Question Was Against the Victim’s Will

For a conviction for PC 215 violation, taking possession of the motor vehicle in question should be against the victim's will. That means if you had permission from the victim (passenger or driver) to take the vehicle, you would not be guilty of carjacking under PC 215. For the sake of this statute, to take a motor vehicle from another person means:

  • You had possession of the vehicle
  • You did move or drive the car, regardless of the distance

You Had to Use Fear or Force to Take Possession of the Motor Vehicle

Typically, the term "fear" or "force" has the same meaning according to PC 215. Threatening the victim to make him/her sustain fear for the safety of his/her life or health is in itself a form of force under this statute.

To that end, the prosecutor must show the court with proper evidence that you had to use fear, force, or threats to take possession of the motor vehicle in question to secure a guilty verdict against you for PC 215 violation.

Even if the victim had to use some form of resistance before complying with your demands, you might be guilty of PC 215 if the prosecutor can prove to the court that you had to use some reasonable force.

Consequences of Carjacking Offense Conviction

According to PC 215, a carjacking offense is typically chargeable and punishable as a felony. Unlike a misdemeanor or an infraction, the penalties for a felony offense are severe and life-altering. Upon conviction for PC 215 violation, you will be subject to the following potential penalties:

  • An incarceration term in the state prison for 3 to 9 years
  • A fine of not more than $10,000

Note that you will be subject to the above penalties for each victim or passenger onboard or present in the vehicle at the time of the offense occurrence. Additionally, a conviction for a PC 215 violation will also attract severe sentence enhancements on top of the above standard sentence/penalties, meaning your ultimate sentence will be harsher.

Below are some of the most common standard sentence enhancements following a conviction for PC 215 violation:

Great/Significant Bodily Injury

When you inflict a substantial or significant bodily injury to a driver or a passenger during the commission of the carjacking offense, a conviction will result in an additional and consecutive 3-6 years term in the state prison, according to PC 12022.7.

Street Gang Enhancement

If you did the carjacking offense with the intent of benefiting or in association with a criminal street gang, a conviction would also attract a street gang enhancement under PC 186.22. In this case, you will be subject to a consecutive 15 years to life in the state prison as part of your sentencing for a carjacking offense conviction.

Use a Gun, and You Are Done Law

According to section 12022.53 of the Penal Code, you could face up to ten (10) years consecutive prison term on top of your original sentence if you brandish or show a gun in a threatening way during the commission of a carjacking offense.

Sentence enhancement under this law could attract up to twenty (20) years additional prison term if you had to discharge the gun during the commission of the offense. If you inflict a severe bodily injury or kill someone during the commission of this offense, you will be subject to twenty-five (25) years to life in prison.

Felony Murder Rule

According to Senate Bill (SB) 1437, the felony murder rule will apply to your case if you or an accomplice kills another person during the commission of carjacking or attempted carjacking. Under this statute, you will automatically be subject to first-degree murder if the prosecutor can prove to the jury that you or your accomplice had to kill someone to accomplish the mission of driving off with the vehicle.

You could be subject to severe additional and consecutive penalties under this legal doctrine following a conviction for PC 215 violation even if you or your accomplice didn't intend to kill the victim in the furtherance of the offense. What matters under this law is that the commission of the carjacking offense led to the victim's death.

For instance, this felony murder rule enhancement could apply in your carjacking case if the prosecutor can prove to the court that the victim had stress due to this sudden event which eventually led to his/her death.

In this situation, a conviction can result in twenty-five (25) years to life in the state prison consecutive to the underlying carjacking offense sentence.

Three Strikes Law

Since a carjacking offense is a violent felony offense under the law, a conviction will count as a "strike" under PC 667 (Three Strikes Law). If this sentencing enhancement applies to your carjacking case, you will not be eligible for probation or parole until you complete 85% of your sentence.

If you already have a "strike" or conviction on your criminal record, your second strike will make you subject to double the standard punishment required by the law for a carjacking offense conviction. However, if you are a "third striker," meaning you have two prior convictions for a violent felony, your subsequent conviction for any felony offense like carjacking will make you subject to a mandatory 25 years to life in prison.

Immigration Consequences

Since a carjacking offense counts as a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) under the law, a conviction for PC 215 violation will attract negative immigration repercussions under the Immigration Law. These negative immigration consequences will apply in your carjacking case if you are an alien or non-citizen.

If you are an alien, a conviction for a CIMT offense like carjacking will necessitate immediate deportation from the country with no possibility of re-admission after removal. That means your life could take a new life-changing turn after removal, regardless of your stay here.

Apart from the deportation and inadmissibility consequences, a conviction for any CIMT offense will also affect your professional licenses, especially if you are a medical practitioner or an attorney.

Kidnapping During Carjacking

According to PC 209.5, your standard carjacking punishment may increase to a life imprisonment term if you had to kidnap someone during the commission or in furtherance of the offense.  PC 209.5 violation is also known as aggravated kidnapping, meaning you had to move the victim onboard a significant distance away from the carjacking scene.

As you can see, a carjacking offense has very severe and life-altering penalties, especially if any of the above sentence enhancements apply in your particular case.

Probation for a Carjacking Offense Conviction

Following a conviction for a carjacking offense, you could also be subject to a probation term of three (3) to five (5) years instead of a prison sentence. However, you have to abide by the required terms and conditions of your felony probation, including:

  • Making periodic check-ins with the court-appointed probation officer
  • Agree to submit regular drug test results
  • Agree to give up your rights to be free from illegal search and seizure

While you are on probation for a carjacking offense, the probation officer has the authority to arrest you immediately without a warrant if he/she reasonably believes that you are not abiding by the conditions of your release. If that happens, you will have to stay in police custody without bail, awaiting the court's decision to determine if the alleged violation was true or not.

Unfortunately, if the judge presiding over this case confirms that these allegations are true beyond a reasonable doubt, he or she will terminate your probation and order incarceration in the state prison.

The best way to protect your interest and rights if you are in trouble with the law for an alleged carjacking offense is to retain the services of a qualified defense attorney.

Countering Carjacking Allegations Against You

Defending a carjacking charge requires a dedicated and aggressive attorney because penalties you could be subject to upon conviction are severe. Retaining the defense attorney's services at the early stages of this case investigation is vital in building the best defense strategies for countering the carjacking allegations against you.

Proving your innocence during the alleged carjacking case trial will depend on whether your defense attorney can utilize any of the following applicable and viable defenses on your behalf for the best possible outcome:

You Didn't Apply Fear or Force

With proper evidence like video surveillance videos, your defense attorney might be able to prove you didn't apply force or fear to obtain the vehicle from the victim. If the prosecutor cannot prove this vital element of the crime, the court cannot hold you liable for violating PC 215.

However, if you did take a vehicle without the owner's consent, you might still be subject to a related less severe offense like joyriding or grand theft auto.

Mistaken Identity

One of the leading and most common causes of wrongful arrests and convictions is mistaken identity. Lawmakers acknowledge that carjacking is a stressful and startling event that can make it challenging for the victim to identify the perpetrator accurately.

If your arrest was because a police officer thinks your physical appearance matches those of the actual perpetrator, this defense argument could work out in your favor. Even if you know you are a victim of mistaken identity, you must prove your argument under the criminal justice system to convince the court you are innocent.

A reliable defense attorney can help you prove your innocence to the court by providing appropriate pieces of evidence to show that you are a victim of mistaken identity, which is not an uncommon issue in the criminal justice system.

You Had the Victim's Consent

If you had permission or consent from the passenger or the driver to take the vehicle, your case would not qualify as carjacking under PC 215. For the sake of this statute, you commit a carjacking offense if the taking of the vehicle was against the victim's will (driver or passenger), meaning he/she didn't grant you the consent to drive the vehicle.

With your attorney in your corner, it is possible to prove this argument at trial for a less severe charge like joyriding or dismissal of the case entirely.

Offenses Closely Related to Carjacking Under the Law

Depending on various circumstances surrounding your unique case, the prosecutor may file a related offense against you if it is impossible to convict you for carjacking. Typically, the prosecutor will charge you with any of the following related offenses instead or in addition to the underlying carjacking offense:


Since a robbery and carjacking offense shares related elements of crime, the prosecutor can file a robbery charge against you if it is impossible to convict you for PC 215 violation.

Just like a carjacking offense, to prove you guilty of robbery under PC 211, the prosecutor will bear the evidentiary weight of proving to the jury that you had to use fear or force to take another person's property unlawfully. Since robbery is punishable as a felony, the consequences you would be subject to upon conviction are also severe, like a carjacking offense sentence.

A conviction for PC 215 violation will make you subject to a prison term of three (3) to five (5) years in the state prison. In some situations, the prosecutor may secure a conviction against your for both a robbery and carjacking. However, you will only be subject to one of these offense's penalties according to the law when that happens.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA)

Also commonly known as GTA, grand theft auto is typically taking another individual's vehicle without his/her consent with the criminal intent to deprive him/her of the car. Even if you didn't apply force or fear when taking the vehicle, you could still be guilty of grand theft auto if the victim didn't grant you the consent to drive off with the vehicle.

According to section 489 (d) (1) of the Penal Code, GTA is a wobbler offense. Under the law, a wobbler offense can attract either a felony or misdemeanor punishment, depending on:

  • Your case's unique facts and circumstances
  • Whether you have a criminal history or not

A conviction for GTA as a felony will attract a lengthy prison term of up to fours years. If the car in question were worth more than $65,000, you would be subject to an additional two years in the state prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000.

However, if your GTA charge is a misdemeanor, a conviction will result in a maximum fine of $1,000 and an incarceration term in the county jail for up to one year.

How to Find a Dependable Carjacking Defense Attorney

Finding a dependable defense attorney following an arrest for a carjacking offense might be a stressful and daunting task because you don't want to settle for the services of a mediocre expert. Here are helpful tips to consider during your search to make the process less of a hassle during this critical time of need:

  • Check whether your prospective attorney is licensed or not
  • Consider your prospective attorney experience
  • Consider the reputation and credibility of your prospective attorney
  • Consider the attorney's location and availability
  • Consider the attorney's total services fee

Having a dependable defense attorney in your corner is vital if you are in police custody for carjacking or any related offense to ensure the best legal representation through every stage of the court process.

Find a Carjacking Defense Attorney Near Me

At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we will ensure that you have the best legal representation on the alleged carjacking case to achieve the best attainable outcome. Our dedicated and aggressive attorneys will dedicate ample time to your case to find the best defense strategies to convince the court to dismiss or reduce it to a less severe offense.

Call us at 619-877-6894 to schedule your first free consultation with our understanding attorneys while the eyewitnesses' memories are still "fresh."