Carjacking Charges in California

| Gazette, Police Blotter | October 25, 2013

Robin Sandoval

Are you among the many thousands of people who have ever had a car stolen? It happens every day in the U.S., especially in places like Southern California, where so many people are packed into such a small geographic location. But, if you’ve ever been a victim of “carjacking,” the term may not be so casually termed.

Penal Code 215 PC, or “carjacking,” is defined as: “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 vehicle against his or her will with the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of the motor vehicle of his possession, accomplished by means of force or fear.”

What this long-winded account boils down to is this: if an individual steals a car while the owner is in “immediate possession” of the vehicle, or if a passenger is inside of the vehicle, then that individual is committing a carjacking.

In order to understand what this explanation means, it’s important to know what constitutes “immediate possession.” Basically, if the car is within reach, sight or otherwise able to be immediately controlled by the owner, provided he or she was not coerced by force or fear, then it is in the owner’s “immediate possession.” Note that the owner does not need to be driving the car, or even be inside it, for the theft to be considered carjacking.


Penal Code 215 PC is charged as a felony and carries with it a variety of potential sentences. The sentence can be as light as one year in county jail and/or probation to as heavy as three, five or nine years in California State prison, as well as a maximum fine of $10,000.

The kicker here, though, is that the accused also faces a possible sentence for each victim who was present at the time of the carjacking. Therefore, if there are three people in the car when it is jacked, the suspect will be sentenced to one year in county jail, and will also have to serve one year for each person present, or three years total.

Additionally, if a person is injured during the carjacking and suffers great bodily injury, an additional three- to six-year prison term will be added on to the original punishment for carjacking. Also, if it can be proven that the suspected carjacker was part of a street gang and committed the carjacking “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang,” then the sentence enhancement of 15 years to life in State Prison will be added to the sentence.

While there are other possible enhancements, there is also the “10-20-Life Use A Gun And You’re Done” law, where:
An additional 10 years can be added to the sentence if the suspect uses a gun to commit the crime
20 years if they fire the gun and
25 years to life if a victim is injured with the gun when the crime is committed.

The possible sentences listed above are not the end-all be-all for carjacking. There are various sentence enhancing circumstances that can take place and result in harsher penalties upon conviction.

Robin Sandoval is a California Licensed Bail Bondsman and owner of SCV Bail Bonds. Robin writes blogs and articles to help increase community awareness of the bail industry. If you have questions or want to suggest a topic, email robin@scvbailbonds.com, visit www.scvbailbonds.com or call 661-299-2245.

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