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In this article we talk in detail about carjacking, a serious crime in Los Angeles and the rest of California. Here you will find the elements that constitute this crime, the penalties, the possible defenses and some examples. 

At Lluis Law our lawyers specialize in this and all other violent crimes. These include assault with a deadly weapon, physical assault, attempted murder charge, and murder.   

If you have been charged with a carjacking charge in Los Angeles, call now for a professional consultation. Our Los Angeles theft lawyers can defend you and help you fight this charge.


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Carjacking Laws in Los Angeles and the rest of California In 2024

The crime of carjacking is typified in the California Penal Code, Section 215 PC. It consists of taking under duress, threats or by force a motor vehicle owned by another person. 

Such “criminal taking” of the vehicle is made while it is in the possession of someone (owner or passenger) “against their will, with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them of possession of the motor vehicle.”

carjacking in los angeles today

Elements To Prove For The Conviction Of Carjacking in Los Angeles

This crime is punishable under state law with prison sentences and fines. In order for a defendant to be convicted of carjacking, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant took a motor vehicle owned by another person.
  • The vehicle was stolen in the presence of the person who owned it or its owner.
  • This vehicle was taken against the person’s will.
  • To do so, the defendant used force or intimidation to prevent the person from resisting.
  • By depriving the person of their property, the defendant intended to deprive them of possession of the vehicle, permanently or temporarily. 

This crime presents some particularities in terms of its execution:

  • The use of force or intimidation can be at any time of the fact. Before, during or after the robbery.
  • A person is considered to have taken possession of someone else’s property in this case, if they move it a little. Carjacking occurs with or without the victim inside it. 
  • It is even considered carjacking to also violently take the vehicle keys in the presence of the other person. 

Examples Of Carjacking

The most common cases of carjacking with violence occur on the street or inside parking lots. For example:

1. An armed man suddenly shows up while you are parked on the street. The thief points a gun at him and forcibly removes him from the vehicle. He then gets in the car and runs away. 

2. In a shopping center parking lot, a man approaches you, pulls out a firearm and threatens you. Afterwards, he demands that you hand over the car keys, gets in it and warns you that if you scream he will shoot you. 

Under California Penal Code Section 215 PC, the vehicle does not need to be in the immediate presence of its owner. In the second example, the mere act of depriving the owner of the vehicle keys constitutes a crime.

You might be interested in reading our blog on criminal threats in California.

At What Point Is The “Criminal Seizure” Constituted In Carjacking?

The thief is not required to have traveled significantly with the stolen vehicle. It is enough that there is the intention to dispossess the vehicle of its rightful owner. The car could even remain in the physical presence of the victim.

What If I Try To Personally Repossess My Car?

Trying to recover a stolen vehicle in California can be difficult for its owner. State laws treat vehicle theft as a crime against possession and not necessarily against property.

The following example illustrates the case very well: You see the car that was stolen on the street, there is a passenger inside the vehicle but not the driver. If you get into the car, remove the occupant, and then drive away, you can be charged with auto theft.

Federal Carjacking laws – 18 USC § 2119

On a federal basis, the law also establishes that carjacking is a felony. Except that the law requires the stolen vehicle to have been “transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce from the person.”

In addition to this condition, 18 US Code § 2119 – Motor Vehicles requires showing the intent of the defendant to cause death or serious bodily injury to the victim. No such requirement is outlined in California’s state vehicle theft law.

Crimes Related To Carjacking

There are a number of crimes similar or related to carjacking including the following:

vehicle theft crime


Violate Section 211 PC of the California Penal Code. Auto theft can be accompanied by robbery which adds 5 years to the sentence. 

You can read more about this crime in our section on the crime of robbery in California.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA)

Violates Section 487(a) PC of the California Penal Code. The difference with carjacking is that there is no use of violence or intimidation. 

Also in grand theft auto, the car owner is permanently deprived of their vehicle. While in vehicle theft, it can be permanent or temporary. 


Kidnapping a person during a carjacking is a crime under Section 209.5 PC of the California Penal Code. The victim is temporarily held during the act, increasing the chances of damage. 

The conviction for violating the state’s kidnapping law increases the sentence to life in prison. Depending on the skill and experience of the defense attorney there is a possibility of obtaining probation. 

When the accused is found guilty of both crimes, it is punished as a single crime. That is, carjacking or kidnapping, but never both. The judge will dismiss the auto theft charge as the kidnapping charge is more serious. 

vehicle theft kidnapping

Joyriding / Car Theft

It is taking and driving a car but without the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the car. It does not require the use of force or fear. As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to one year in a county jail. 

As a felony, the sentence is up to three years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Or four years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. If it is a public service vehicle (ambulance, police car or fire truck).


It involves the use of force or violence against the victim (driver or passenger) to strip the victim of the car. It is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of six months in a county jail.  

If it causes bodily injury or displays a weapon (pistol, knife), other crimes are added. Assault with serious bodily injury and / or assault with a deadly weapon, which is punishable by imprisonment for four years in a state prison.

Car Burglary

It is set when the stolen car is locked. It is a “wobbler” crime . It is punishable by one year in prison in a county jail or three years in a state prison. 

car burglary

Defenses Against carjacking in los angeles

A crucial element in the crime of carjacking in Los Angeles and the rest of the state is the use of force or intimidation. If the threats against the victim are not proven, the crime could not be criminally prosecuted as carjacking. Although it is possible to charge it as grand theft auto crime.

Some of the most common defenses in these cases are: 

There Was Consent

The alleged victim allowed the defendant to take the vehicle and later changed their mind. Alternatively, they lent it to the defendant and they did not return it in the agreed time. Although they could also be criminally charged with the crime of grand theft auto as a misdemeanor. 

No Use Of Force Or Intimidation

Another appropriate defense in these cases is to prove that there was no assault or threat against the victim. If force or fear was not used to take the car, you are not guilty of violating California Penal Code 215 PC.

Perhaps you could be charged with theft or grand theft auto in the second degree, which is a “wobbler” crime . 

Identification Error

It is not uncommon to see lawsuits in California courts based on charges of misidentification. In fact, in the United States it represents one of the unfair sentences to which thousands of people are subjected. 

There are individuals who are misidentified by witnesses or the victims and end up being subjected to criminal prosecution. Victims are often traumatized and do not accurately remember the events. 

However, with the help of experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyers it is possible to have these charges dismissed.   

There Was No Intention To Dispossess The Vehicle Of Its Owner 

This offense requires that the defendant had the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of the vehicle of the use and enjoyment of the vehicle. It can be before or while using force or coercion to commit the crime.

If the lawyer can show that there was no such intention, they will be able to have an adequate defense for their client.

There Was No One In The Vehicle At The Time Of The Crime

Carjacking also requires that the owner or another person are inside the car at the time of the event. If the robbery occurred without the immediate presence of another person, then it cannot be considered a carjacking. 

In that case it would simply be a grand theft auto. 

If you have been charged in any of these scenarios, please contact us. We have freed hundreds of innocent, wrongfully accused people from prison.

Sentences Under The Crime Of Vehicle Theft 

California Penal Code 215 PC is punishable as a felony, it is generally sanctioned with: 

  • Probation and up to one year in jail in a county jail, or
  • Three, five or nine years in a state prison.
  • A maximum fine of $10,000. 

The penalty is imposed for each victim present in the car at the time of the roberry. 

Other Additional Sanctions  

Increased penalties for this offense include: 

Great Bodily Injury

When significant physical injuries occur during the theft of the vehicle (1 2022 .7 PC), another three years in prison are added.

10-20-Life Law – Use A Gun And You Are Done

The use of a weapon (Penal Code 1 2022 .53 PC), adds 10 years in prison. Another 20 years for firing a gun and 25 years for murdering or injuring another person.

California Three Strikes Law

Under the California 3 strikes law, as a violent crime a conviction for carjacking counts as a “strike.” The convict must serve 85% of the sentence to apply for probation.

Criminal Adjustment Of Street Gangs

It is when the crime is committed in association or under the direction of a street gang (Penal Code 186.22 PC). It carries an additional prison sentence of 15 years to life in prison. 

It means that if the convicted individual is accused after another felony, they will accumulate two strikes. The sentence, consequently, will be double what the law establishes for reoffending as a criminal. 

If they accumulate a third offense, the convicted person must serve a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in state prison.

vandalism in california

You may be interested in knowing what vandalism is in California and what risks this crime carries in the state.

What Is The Felony Murder Rule? 

When a murder occurs during the commission of the crime of carjacking, the penalty increases. The defendant may be charged with first degree murder. 

Even in cases where the victim dies during the carjacking, but not at the hands of the perpetrator. 

If you want to delve deeper into the topic of murder laws in California, check out our dedicated blog.

Immigration Consequences Of Carjacking In Los Angeles

This crime can lead to the removal or deportation of a legal or illegal alien. A conviction for carjacking is a felony that leads to deportation.

If you are facing a charge for this crime you should seek legal help as soon as possible. The criminal lawyers at Lluis Law are also certified immigration lawyers in Los Angeles. For these cases, some immigration relief such as cancellation of removal may be available. 

can you carry a concealed weapon in california

Can you carry a concealed weapon in California? In addition to carjacking this can have serious consequences that we invite you to discover in our blog.

Is It Possible To Get probation For Carjacking?

This is possible as long as the defense attorney can convince the court of certain mitigating situations. If the court agrees to this benefit, the defendant would be accompanied by a felony probation officer. 

  • This means that the defendant will have to report to the probation officer on a regular basis. In some cases they are also required to undergo regular drug tests.
  • During the trial period the individual loses their “search and seizure” rights. In other words, any police officer could carry out searches of the defendant and his property with a prior court order.
  • The probation officer believes that the defendant violated the conditions of probation, they authorized to re-arrest the defendant without a warrant.
  • If the judge determines that such a violation occurred, the defendant could be sent to state jail.

Is Taking A Person’s Car Keys Considered Carjacking Too?

As already indicated before, the materialization of the crime does not require that the defendant has physically taken the car. Therefore, stripping the owner of the vehicle keys is enough to consider it a crime.  

 What Happens If The Owner Abandons The Car During The Theft?

The victim does not have to remain inside their vehicle. The very fact that the car was forcibly seized is considered a “criminal seizure.” Therefore, the crime of carjacking is constituted. 

The defendant is also not required to use the firearm or deadly weapon in their possession. It is enough that they have threatened the victim to use it for it to be considered a robbery with “use of a deadly weapon”.

Car Theft Statistics

  • Vehicle theft is the third most common property crime in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
  • According to FBI data compiled by Bankrate in 2020 around 810,400 vehicles were stolen. 
  • This figure represents 11.8% more cars stolen in 2019 (724,872). 
  • Vehicle theft losses were $7.4 billion that year. While the average loss in dollars for this type of theft was $9,166. 
  • The National Insurance Crime Bureau – NCIB attributes the increase in stolen cars to:
    • Economic recession generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Limitations of public safety budgets
    • Decline of juvenile outreach programs.
  • The highest number of car thefts occurs during the New Year holiday.
  • Of all property crimes reported in 2019, including auto theft, only 17.2% were solved.
  • In 2019, California ranked 5th as the state with the most property crimes (auto theft) with 358.8 units per 100,000 population.
  • During the pandemic, the number of stolen delivery cars increased.
  • The increase in carjacking could be a consequence of the effectiveness of current car anti-theft systems.

Carjacking Crime Attorneys in Los Angeles

Proving the innocence of our clients is always our main goal as carjacking attorneys. The Los Angeles criminal law firm of Lluis Law is known for its results. 

Our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience successfully defending individuals accused of these charges. If you want to be defended or simply clarify doubts, we will gladly assist you without any commitment.

We can help you prove your innocence in any California court. When we take a case we always go to the end and accompany the client at each stage of the judicial process.

Call now and request a private consultation with any of our Los Angeles carjacking attorneys. We can and want to help you.


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