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Carjacking is a crime commonly seen in movies and television when a criminal uses a gun to intimidate a driver into giving him their car after committing a bank robbery or other heist. In this article, we’ll define the term “carjacking” and explain how it is treated by criminal law. 

Key Takeaways

  • A carjacking is a crime in which a vehicle is stolen using force or fear
  • Carjackings can be committed with weapons, but they can also be done with only intimidation or force
  • When taken to the extreme, carjackings can lead to injury or death of the victim
  • Penalties for carjacking vary, but usually range from three to ten years in prison
  • Penalties for carjacking are more severe if a gun, kidnapping, or criminal street gang is involved
  • Common defenses for carjacking include showing there was no force or fear involved, claiming that the victim consented, or claiming the defendant was mentally ill 

What Is Carjacking?

A carjacking is a crime in which a criminal steals or attempts to steal a vehicle using force or fear. Carjackings are often committed with a weapon, but can also be executed using only intimidation or force. When they are pushed too far, carjackings can lead to injury or death of the victim. 

For a crime to be considered a carjacking, the defendant must actually inflict physical force upon the victim or threaten to inflict imminent physical harm upon a driver, passenger, or somebody outside of the car. 

Carjacking in Criminal Law

The exact criminal penalty for carjacking varies depending on the state, with typical prison punishments ranging from about three to ten years. If the carjacking is committed with a gun, as part of a kidnapping, or related to a criminal street gang, the punishment can be more severe. 

Defenses for Carjackings

Defenses for defendants charged with carjacking usually focus on the definition of “force” and “fear.” If the defense can prove that the defendant did not use force or fear, the carjacking case will be dismissed. Instead, the relevant crime will be grand theft auto, which has a shorter minimum penalty.

Another common defense to carjacking is arguing that the owner of the car consented to the defendant’s taking of the car. However, this can be difficult to prove if the vehicle’s owner was threatened or injured during the theft. 

Another defense option is to argue that the defendant committed the carjacking because of a mental disorder, which can reduce the penalty they will receive.

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