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Law School Help: California Criminal – Carjacking

I’m guessing a lot of you know what carjacking is — namely, the stealing of a car from another’s possession. I might be wrong, but I think carjacking started happening in the 1980s or so in California when those wanting to steal a vehicle realized that stealing a parked vehicle with no keys was rather difficult. Stealing a vehicle that had been unlocked and started by the owner was much easier and all the thief had to do was threaten the owner.

Anyway, in California, the criminal offense of carjacking is defined in California Penal Code section 215(a) which states:

“‘Carjacking’ is the felonious taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, or from the person or immediate presence of a passenger of the motor vehicle, against his or her will and with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of the motor vehicle of his or her possession, accomplished by means of force or fear.”

Clearly this is a mouthful, but if you break it down, the basic elements of a carjacking are:

  1. the taking
  2. by means of force or fear
  3. of a motor vehicle
  4. that is in the possession of another, including a passenger of the motor vehicle
  5. from the person or the immediate presence of that other,
  6. against the will of the possessor
  7. with the intent to deprive the possessor of their possession of said vehicle

Each of these elements could, in theory, be the source of disagreement between the prosecution and the defense. For instance, the prosecution might say the vehicle (say, it’s a scooter) counts as a motor vehicle while the defense says it doesn’t count. Again, the general rule is that in order to be convicted of an offense, you have to satisfy all of the elements.

As far as a sentence goes, Penal Code section 215(b) states that carjacking may be punished in state prison for a term of three, five, or nine years, depending on the mitigating and/or aggravating factors present in the case. Aggravating and mitigating factors are discussed more so in California Rules of Court sections 4.421 and 4.423, respectively.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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