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In this article we talk about violent vehicle theft in California. Here we explain the elements that constitute this crime, the sanctions, the possible defenses and offer some examples. 

At Lluis Law our attorneys specialize in all types of violent crime. Such as assault with a deadly weapon, physical assault, attempted murder, and murder .   

If you were charged with a violent vehicle theft charge, call now for a professional consultation. Our Los Angeles theft attorneys can help you fight this charge.

Vehicle theft laws with violence in California in 2022

The crime of vehicle theft is criminalized in the California Penal Code, Section 211 PC. Taking under duress, threats or by force another person’s motor vehicle is illegal. This crime is sanctioned under state law with prison terms and fines. 

A defendant can be convicted of auto theft if the prosecutor manages to 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.
  • The vehicle was taken against the person’s will.
  • To do so, the defendant used force or intimidation, preventing the person from resisting.

By stripping the person of his property, the defendant intended to deprive him of possession of the vehicle. Permanently or temporarily. 

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 around a bit. Theft of the car occurs with or without the victim inside it. 

Even car theft is also considered violently taking the vehicle keys in the presence of the other person. 

Examples of violent vehicle theft

The most common cases of this crime occur on the street or in parking lots. For example:

1. An armed man appears suddenly while you are parked with your vehicle on the street. The thief points a pistol at him and pulls him out of the vehicle. Then he gets in the car and runs away. 

2. In the parking lot of a shopping center, a man approaches him and takes out a firearm to threaten him. He demands that he give him the keys to his vehicle, he mounts it and warns him that if he screams he will shoot him. 

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

Recovering a stolen vehicle in California can be tricky. State laws treat vehicle theft as a crime against possession and not necessarily property.

For example, he sees the car that was stolen from him on the street and tries to recover it personally. The driver is not inside the car and there is a passenger inside the vehicle. If you enter the car and remove the occupant and then leave, you can be charged with car theft.

Offenses related to vehicle theft 

Other similar or related crimes include:


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

GTA  Grand Theft Auto

Violates Section 487 (a) PC of the California Penal Code. The difference from violent vehicle theft is that there is no use of violence or intimidation. 

Also in the GTA, the owner of the car is permanently deprived of the property. While in vehicle theft it can be permanently or temporarily. 


Kidnapping during a car theft is an offense under Section 209.5 PC of the California Penal Code. The victim is temporarily detained during the event, increasing the chances of harm.

vehicle theft kidnapping

Conviction for violating the state’s kidnapping law increases the life sentence. Depending on the skill and experience of the defense attorney, there is a possibility of probation. 

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

Joyriding / car theft

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 prison in a county jail. 

As a felony, the sentence is up to three years in prison in a jail and a fine of $ 5,000. Or four years in prison in a 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 occurs 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 state prison. 

car burglary

Defenses against carjacking

A crucial element in the crime of carjacking is the use of force or intimidation. If the threats against the victim are not proven, the crime could not be criminally prosecuted as vehicle theft. Although yes of greater vehicle theft.

Some of the most common defenses in these cases are: 

There was consent

The alleged victim allowed the defendant to take the vehicle and then repented. Or it was loaned to the accused and he did not return it in the agreed time. Although he could also be criminally charged with the crime of grand theft as a misdemeanor. 

Without use of force or intimidation

Another appropriate defense in these cases is to prove that there was no assault or threats 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 grand theft or grand theft auto in the second degree, which is a “wobbler” crime . 

Identification error

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

When a person is wrongly identified by witnesses or victims, it usually ends in a criminal trial. However, with the help of an expert criminal defense attorney it is possible to drop these charges.   

If this is your case, contact us. We have released hundreds of innocent people wrongly accused from prison. A witness may be mistaken in trying to identify a suspect.

Also victims who are often traumatized and do not accurately remember the events. 

Sentences under the crime of carjacking 

California Penal Code 215 PC is punishable as a felony, generally punishable by: 

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

Punishment is imposed for each victim present in the car at the time of the robbery. 

Other additional penalties  

Improvements or increased penalties for this crime include: 

Great bodily injury

When significant physical injuries occur during vehicle theft (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 shooting a gun and 25 years for murdering or injuring another person.

California Three Strike Law

As a violent crime, a violent vehicle theft conviction counts as a “strike”. The convicted person must serve 85% of the sentence to request parole.

Criminal adjustment of street gangs

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

This means that if the convicted person is charged after another serious crime, he will accumulate two strikes. Consequently, the sentence will be twice what the law establishes for reoffending as a criminal. 

For a third offense (three strikes), the convicted person must serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in a state prison.

Serious crime murder rule 

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

Even in cases where the victim dies during the theft of the car but not at the hands of the perpetrator. 

Immigration consequences of carjacking in California

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

If you are facing a charge for this crime you should seek legal help as soon as possible. Lluis Law’s criminal attorneys are also certified immigration lawyers. For these cases, some immigration reliefs such as cancellation of deportation may be available. 

Carjacking crime attorneys

Proving the innocence of our clients is always the main objective of violent vehicle theft lawyers. The criminal law firm of Lluis Law in Los Angeles is known for its results. 

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

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 violent vehicle theft attorneys. We can and we want to help you.