A carjacking conviction in Los Angeles can lead to a substantial amount of time spent in jail and hefty fines that can significantly affect your financial stability. Moreover, the sentence can ruin your reputation in the community hence making it hard to go back to school or get a profitable job. Don't allow a carjacking conviction to disrupt your future. If you have been arrested for carjacking, contact qualified attorneys at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. We are experienced and familiar with the law and can build your case to get you the best possible outcome.

What is Carjacking?

According to California PC Section 215 PC carjacking is taking a car in possession of somebody else from their immediate presence or person, or the individual or immediate proximity of the car's passengers against their will. It is committed with an intention to either temporarily or permanently deprive the individual of the vehicle in their possession. Carjacking is accomplished through the use of fear or force.

In layman's language, carjacking is taking a car from a person's immediate possession, and it's achieved through the use of fear or force.

To be found guilty of the violation of PC 215, the prosecutor should prove facts of the crime below beyond any reasonable doubt:

  • An individual possessed the vehicle
  • The defendant took the motor vehicle from that person's immediate presence or a passenger's immediate presence
  • Against their will through the use of fear and force
  • With an intent to deprive the individual of the vehicle either temporarily or permanently

Definition of Legal Terms

To comprehend the above legal meaning, here is an overview of key legal terms and phrases:

Possession and Immediate Presence

The first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word carjacking is envisioning a person using a knife or gun and ordering the motorist out of their vehicle. Then the perpetrator gets into the motor vehicle and drives away.

With respect to the above example, the motorist possessed the motor vehicle. Also, the car was within the motorist's immediate presence. The term "immediate presence" refers to the motor vehicle being in the victim's control, reach, or observation. Presence establishes ownership of the vehicle.

The definition extends carjacking laws’ scope beyond cases where the alleged victim is operating their vehicle or even in the car.

The Defendant Took the Vehicle Against the Victim's Will

When a defendant takes a vehicle from somebody else, it implies that they:

  • Took control of the car, and
  • Moved the car even if it is only a short distance.

If, for any reason, the defendant was not in a position to move a motor vehicle, they could still be charged with attempted carjacking. Provided the prosecution team can present evidence on the other facts of the crime.

Against their will refers to without the victim's consent. An individual's consent to something is when they grant permission voluntary and freely (not under fear or force).  It involves positive cooperation and free will.

Fear or Force

In this context, the terms fear and force have the same meaning. The law goes ahead to hold that the forced impact of fear brought about through a threat is a type of force.

Fear can be defined as the fear of damage or harm to a person's person, family, and assets that are at the incident's scene.

The element in question is met if there is enough fear to make the alleged victim adhere to the illegal demand of their asset. In other words, provided you apply sufficient fear or force to overwhelm the car owner's resistance, fear is met. The car owner's attempts to resist does not negate or disprove the fact that you applied fear or force.

Additionally, the victim does not require to consciously know that a defendant was applying fear or force when taking possession of their car. For instance, a defendant could be punished for Penal Code Section 215 PC if there was an unconscious individual or an infant in the vehicle.

Intent to Deprive

Just like other theft crimes in California, carjacking requires an intention to rob the owner of their assets for good. However, PC 215 needs a purpose to deprive the passenger or owner of their vehicle either temporarily or permanently.

It does not matter whether a defendant carjacks another person's vehicle so that they can keep it to themselves, "borrow"  the car for a while or sell. Any kind of taking is unlawful.

Penalties Attracted by Carjacking

Violation of PC 215 in Los Angeles attracts the penalties below:

  • Probation and a one-year county jail sentence
  • Three (3), five (5), or nine (9) years in prison
  • A fine of up to ten thousand dollars

Notably, you are likely to face these penalties for every victim in the motor vehicle during the carjacking.

Moreover, several sentencing enhancements go hand in hand with Penal Code 215 PC. The sentencing enhancements will increase or enhance your punishment under given circumstances such as:

Severe Bodily Injury

This enhancement involves causing somebody else to sustain a severe bodily injury at the time of the carjacking. Under Penal Code Section 12022.7, a defendant will serve time for three (3) to six (6) years in addition to the punishment they receive for the carjacking conviction.

Severe bodily injury (sometimes known as great bodily hurt) is bodily hurt that involves significant risk of protracted and obvious disfigurement, impairment of a body organ or function, or even death.

Criminal Street Gang Enhancement (Penal Code Section 186.22)

A defendant is likely to face gang sentence enhancement in case the prosecution presents evidence that they carjacked concerning, or for a criminal street gang.

Under PC 186.22, a conviction automatically attracts 15 years or life imprisonment consecutive and in addition to carjacking penalties.

California's 10-20-life "Use a Gun, and You're Done" (PC 12022.53)

Penal Code Section 12022.53 is California's 10-20-life "Use a Gun, and You're Done" law that subjects a defendant to:

  • A ten-year sentence for carjacking with a firearm
  • Twenty years in prison for firing the gun, and
  • Twenty-five years to life imprisonment for severely injuring or killing somebody else with a gun

Like the enhancements discussed-above, this is consecutive and an addition to the punishment you face for the carjacking conviction.

Three Strikes Law

Penal Code 215  is a California violent felony. That means on top of penalties PC 215 carries; a carjacking conviction will lead to a strike on the defendant's criminal record under Three Strikes Law. Moreover, it means the defendant should serve more than eighty-five percent of their sentence before qualifying for parole.

In case you're later charged with a felony and had a previous strike on the criminal record, you'll be considered a second striker. Your sentence for the later crime will be two times the term.

And if you become a third striker, you are likely to serve a compulsory twenty-five year or a life sentence in state prison.

Felony-Murder Rule

In case, at the time of carjacking, a defendant or their accomplice unintentionally or accidentally kills somebody else, automatically felony-murder rule holds them accountable for a first-degree murder offense.

It is worth noting that the case applies even if the alleged victim does not die in the continuance of the crime, provided the demise is associated with the offense. It could be a case where a victim suffers a cardiac arrest due to the incidence's trauma.

Immigration or Removal

Since carjacking is an aggravated California felony, a conviction could additionally result in removal or deportation if you're a lawful alien or immigrant.

Defenses to Penal Code Section 215

There are several legal defenses that your experienced criminal defense attorney can present to prove your innocence. They include:

  1. You did not Use Fear or Force

If you did not use fear or force to take the vehicle, then you did not break the carjacking law.

For instance, you admired another person's car at a restaurant. You saw the vehicle's engine was on, got inside, and drove away, leaving the car owner standing outside. Under the circumstances, you are not guilty of breaking PC 215 law because you didn't use fear or force. You just took the car. However, you will be charged with a less severe crime like joyriding and grand theft.

  1. Consent

Carjacking only happens when you take the car against the passenger's or owner's will. That means if you had the permission to take the vehicle, then you are innocent.

For instance, your friend agrees that you borrow their car. For some reason, you fail to return the vehicle at the agreed time. Then he/she accuses you of carjacking.

In this scenario, you cannot be found guilty of carjacking because you had permission to have the car. However, you could be charged with either joyriding or grand theft auto. They are less severe crimes.

  1. Mistaken Identity

Mistaken identity is one of the leading causes of unjust convictions in California. Carjacking is a traumatizing event that causes people to detract from the ability to remember and identify the offender correctly. As a result, most carjacking suspects are misidentified and wrongly charged. A competent defense attorney should be able to help you if you're arrested because you look like the actual perpetrator.

Your attorney could request the judge to order a lineup. The lawyer will also question the way the witness perceived, remembered, and identified you as the perpetrator. Moreover, your lawyer will engage an eyewitness identification expert witness at the trial who will explain why the identification is unreliable.

  1. A Claim of Right isn't Defense

It's worth noting that despite the fact that you are the owner of the vehicle, you are not permitted to apply fear or force to get the car from another person in possession of the motor vehicle. Carjacking in California is an offense against possession, not ownership.

Are there Offenses that are Related to PC 215?

Discussed below are charges that are filed instead of or together with carjacking.

Robbery (Penal Code Section 211 PC)

PC 211 is California's robbery law. It involves taking another person's assets from the owner's immediate possession or body. It is accomplished through the use of fear or force.

Essentially carjacking is robbing another person of their car. However, PC 215 was created to penalize the stealing of a vehicle more brutally.  Robbery carries up to five years in prison while carjacking is punished by nine years.

It is possible to violate both laws at the same time. For instance, if you go towards a motorist, demand her purse forcefully, order her out of her car, and then drive away. In this case, the prosecutor can charge with both carjacking and robbery.

Robbery is a California felony. It carries two (2) to five (5) years in California state prison. Nonetheless, if found guilty of both carjacking and robbery, the law only permits a defendant to be sentenced for only one crime. The penalties of the other offense should be set aside or stayed.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA), California PC 487(d)(1)

Violation of California PC 487(d)(1) involves robbing a vehicle. However, unlike carjacking, in grand theft auto:

  • The intent is to steal the possessor of their car permanently, and
  • Does not require fear or force

GTA is a California wobbler. That means you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on:

  • The criminal history, and
  • The facts of the crime

A misdemeanor carries a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to one thousand dollars. A felony, on the other hand, is punishable by:

  • Four (4) years in prison (or six years if the car's worth exceeds $65,000)
  • A maximum fine of up to ten thousand dollars

Joyriding (Auto Theft)

This offense occurs when you illegally drive or take a vehicle, which is not yours.  Joyriding does not have the motive to depose the car owner of their car permanently requirement. All is needed is that the defendant illegally took or drove a vehicle that does not belong to them. Additionally, joyriding does not have the use of fear or force requirements.

Joyriding is a wobbler. In most cases, it is filed as a California misdemeanor. If charged with a misdemeanor, you are likely to serve a year in county jail.  A felony carries:

  • A fine of up to $5,000 and a three-year sentence in prison and, or
  • Four (4) years in prison and $10,000 in fines if the motor vehicle is a fire truck, police car, or an ambulance

Auto Burglary

In case the vehicle you steal, joyride, or carjack is locked, the prosecutor can choose to file an auto burglary charge against you. It is considered a wobbler. It carries three (3) years in prison or one (1) year in jail.

Kidnapping at the Time of a Carjack

Violation of California Penal Code Section 209.5 involves kidnapping during the carjacking.

If at the time of carjacking, you drove away with passengers or the driver as a way of facilitating carjacking, you can be charged with kidnapping.

Aggravated kidnapping is common to carjacking incidences. It elements of the crime include:

  • The alleged victim is taken to a significant distance
  • The movement put the victim at an increased risk of injury

If found guilty of this aggravated type of kidnapping, you will serve life imprisonment with parole.

Just like robbery, you can't be convicted of both carjacking and kidnapping at the time a carjacking. If found guilty of both crimes, the court will set aside the PC 215 conviction and punish you for kidnapping.


In case you apply violence or force on a passenger or driver to remove them from their motor vehicle, or push them over to another seat, the prosecutor will file a battery charge against you. Violation of PC 242 (assault and battery laws) is a California misdemeanor. It is punishable by six months in jail.

Nonetheless, if you use a weapon to accomplish the carjacking or cause severe bodily hurt on the alleged victim, you will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon and battery with severe bodily hurt, respectively. Both offenses are wobblers and attract an additional four years in California state prison.

Why You Need Legal Representation

Whether you believe the situation is grave or not, there could be more at risk than is currently apparent if you are charged with carjacking. And you may find yourself looking back on your case a couple of years to come and wish you acted differently. Criminal law in Los Angeles is complicated, and that is why it's essential to work with a defense attorney. The attorney will:

  1. Assist You in Navigating the Legal System

Criminal law is confusing and complicated, particularly if you do not understand the situation you're involved in and the consequences of a plea agreement. Often, the prosecutor will make an offer for a plea bargain. Although this could look like a wise move given the circumstances, and you could want the case closed, it could affect your life, career, family, and finances in the future.

  1. Negotiating Outcomes

All actions your criminal defense attorney take are done to get you the best possible outcome and mitigate the effects that a carjacking charge has on your life. When representing yourself, the prosecutor and the court will take advantage of your incompetence. As a result, you might find you facing more severe punishment even without clarity on how it occurred.

  1. Offer Confidence

Confidence is another benefit of working with a defense lawyer. The attorney will offer answers to your questions. As a result, you will be in a position to plan your future, given their understanding and experience of how they expect to happen.

  1. Collect Statements and Evidence from Witnesses that the Prosecutor will Call

Most witnesses will refuse to give information or statement to defendants for fear of their lives and safety. Nonetheless, the witnesses may be more willing to testify to your defense lawyer.

  1. Offer a Reality Check

In most cases, your criminal defense attorney understands what is going on better than you during the trial. They can also predict what is likely to take place in the future. Additionally, the attorney remains objectively throughout the trial duration. The reality checks and assessments are instrumental when making decisions like whether to accept a plea bargain or not. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Carjacking

Can the Court Grant Probation for PC 215?

The judge can grant you probation for three (3) to five (5) years. Also, the court can place you on felony probation, that comes with a probation officer.

With felony probation, you are required to report regularly to the probation officer. You should also periodically submit to drug tests as well as forfeit your search and seizure rights throughout the probation period. Forfeiting your search and seizure rights means any police officer with a search warrant and knows about your probationary status can search your person, home, or assets.

Moreover, the officer can arrest you without a warrant if they think you violated any probation terms. As a result, they will put you in police custody until the court determines whether you broke the condition or not. If the court determines the violation happened, you could serve time in California state prison.

How Does Armed with a Firearm Differ from Using a Deadly Weapon?

Armed with a firearm refers to having a gun in your possession at the time of the carjacking. The law doesn't require you to use the gun while carjacking. Mere possession is enough to result in enhanced penalties. You could spend an additional one (1) year in prison.

Using a deadly weapon, on the other hand, means you used a weapon at the time of the carjacking. In this case, mere possession isn't enough. You are likely to be punished with an additional three-year sentence in prison.

Find a Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Carjacking in Los Angeles is a serious offense. You could face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the case. That means a conviction can result in time, probation, and fines. Therefore, it is advisable to take a proactive approach to the case and contact the legal team at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm at 310-935-1675. The earlier you involve one of our attorneys, the sooner you could be in a position to get reduced charges, a case win, or dismissed charges.