San Diego Carjacking Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing charges for carjacking, PC 215, then do not forego a criminal defense attorney because these charges are serious. A carjacking is considered a felony in the state of California and could result in harsh penalties, which is why finding the right legal representation is so important.

What is a Carjacking, PC 215?

California law defines a carjacking as Penal Code 215, when someone uses “force or fear” to take a car away, either permanently or temporarily, from the possession of another person. Using “force or fear” means that there was actual physical harm or injury to another person or the threat of physical harm was imminent. Under PC 215, a carjacking can happen even if the person driving is not the owner of the vehicle or if they were simply a passenger(s).

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Related Offenses

The following is a list of related offenses that are similar to carjacking, PC 215 and in some instances, can be charged along with it.

  • Grand Theft Auto (GTA), VC 10851(a)
    • When someone steals another person’s vehicle without their express permission, either depriving them of their vehicle temporarily or permanently.
  • Attempted Carjacking, PC 664/PC 215
    • When someone attempts a carjacking, fails to complete it, but still had the intent to commit the action.
  • Kidnapping while carjacking, PC 209.5
    • This is covered under California penal code 209.5, kidnapping laws and occurs when during the act of carjacking you:
      • Move the victim a substantial distance away from where the carjacking had taken place and;
      • The movement increases the risk of harm to the victim.
  • Robbery, PC 211
    • When you take another person’s property from their body or immediate possession by using force or fear to complete the act.
  • Assault and Battery, PC 242
    • If force or violence was used in the carjacking, including pushing the victim to the passenger seat or pulling them out of the car, you could be charged with battery under PC 242.
    • Additionally, if you inflicted serious bodily injury on someone or committed the act with a gun and assaulted them, you could face charges for:
      • Battery with serious bodily injury; or
      • Assault with a deadly weapon.

What must the Prosecution do?

In order for the prosecution to get a conviction for carjacking, PC 215, they must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the crime were committed. The elements of the crime are as follows:

  • You took the vehicle that was not your own against the will of another person.
  • The vehicle was taken from another person’s possession or immediate presence.
  • Force or fear was used;
    • You actually caused physical harm to another person while in the act of taking the vehicle; or
    • The threat of imminent physical harm was made towards another person while in the act of stealing the vehicle; or
    • Force or fear was used to prevent another person from resisting in order to steal the vehicle.
  • You committed the act with intent to deprive them of their vehicle, either temporarily or permanently.

Who can be charged?

Those that can be charged with carjacking under PC 215 are those that are found to have committed the elements of the crime. The following are different examples of carjacking which showcase how one can be charged with PC 215.


  • Gary pulled into a corner store to pick up a soda, leaving his car running while he ran in. His roommate, Tim was waiting in the passenger seat and listening to music when Billy climbed into the driver seat. Billy threatened Tim at gunpoint to exit the vehicle or else. Billy drove away with Gary’s car while Tim ran into the store to get help.
    • Billy could be convicted of carjacking, PC 215 and could face more penalties because he stole the car using a firearm.
  • Larry was just going to sleep when he heard voices outside his window. By the time he took a look, his car was started up and two young boys could be seen laughing and driving away. He called the police to report it, the boys were caught, and the car was returned. They later admitted that they were taking it out for a joyride and alcohol was involved.
    • The boys cannot be charged with carjacking, PC 215, but they could be charged with joyriding under VC 10851, grand theft auto.

Potential Legal Defenses

Getting the proper legal representation to defend you in court will provide you with the common legal defenses that could be used in certain cases of carjacking like:

  • No force or fear was used.
  • Mistaken identity or a false accusation.
  • Consent was given, so carjacking was not the case.
  • Carjacking is taking a vehicle away from the possession of another and not necessarily the ownership of another. So, a claim of right can be used, however, since the law encompasses possession and not ownership, it can be a difficult position to use.


  • Steve and Miller cased a neighborhood for nice motor vehicles that they could chop for parts and/or sell on the black market. They noticed a woman taking groceries out of her SUV and waited for her to walk away. She had left the back door open because there were more groceries she needed to bring in. In that short window of time, Steve and Miller climbed into her SUV and began driving away as the woman ran out of her home screaming at them to bring her vehicle back.
    • They will not face charges for carjacking under PC 215 because neither of them used force or fear to steal the vehicle. However, they will most likely face charges for grand theft auto (GTA) because it was evident that they had the intent to steal a vehicle by casing the neighborhood.
  • Mike was desperate for food, he was homeless and had not eaten in a few days. He was asking for food and/or money from the patrons of a grocery store. Ken was putting his groceries on the passenger seat of his car when Mike approached asking for some food. Ken refused and out of desperation Mike climbed in to the driver seat to steal some groceries. Ken was yelling at him to exit his vehicle and Mike notices the keys are in the ignition, so he quickly shuts the door and drives away.
    • The police find Mike a few blocks down, the engine was off and he was quietly eating the groceries from the bag.
    • Mike will not face charges for carjacking, PC 215 because he did not use force or fear nor did he have the intent to take the vehicle. However, Mike will have to face charges for grand theft auto (GTA).

Penalties for Carjacking, PC 215

Carjacking under Penal Code 215 is considered a violent felonious act and can be considered a “strike” under California’s “Three Strikes” law. This means that if convicted, you will have a strike on your record and must serve a majority of your sentence before even being considered for parole.

If you receive a second strike, your sentence could double to the fullest extent of the law. If you receive a third strike or more, you could face as much as 25 years to life in a state penitentiary.

  • Carjacking, PC 215
    • Imprisonment for 3, 5, or 9 years in a state penitentiary; or
    • Up to $10,000 dollars in fines, and
    • Probation.
  • The penalties are even steeper if any of these were committed along with the carjacking:
    • Someone was physically harmed or injured,
    • The carjacking was done in order to benefit a gang,
    • Someone was kidnapped during the carjacking, or
    • A firearm/gun was used.

Related Offenses and Penalties

  • Grand Theft Auto (GTA), VC 10851
    • GTA is considered a “wobbler” which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case.
    • As a felony, you could face;
      • Fines up to $10,000; and/or
      • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in jail.
  • Attempted Carjacking, PC 664/PC 215
    • If convicted, you could face a jail or prison sentence that is equal to half the amount of time you would spent if you actually completed the crime.
  • Kidnapping during the commission of a carjacking, PC 209.5
    • Life in prison with the possibility of parole;
    • A “strike” on your record under California’s Three Strikes law.
  • Robbery, PC 211
    • Robbery in the first degree;
      • Formal felony probation,
      • 3, 4, or 6 years in a California state penitentiary; and/or
      • Up to $10,000 in fines.
    • Robbery in the second degree;
      • Felony probation;
      • 2, 3, or 5 years in a state prison; and/or
      • Up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Auto Burglary
    • This is known as second degree burglary and the penalties are:
    • As a misdemeanor, it carries a maximum sentence of 1 year in county jail.
    • As a felony, you could face 16 months, 2, or 3 years in jail.
  • Battery, PC 242
    • Misdemeanor summary probation;
    • Possibly 6 months in county jail; and/or
    • Up to $2,000 in fines.

Charges of carjacking, PC 215 can be overwhelming to face alone and it is highly-recommended that you seek the right criminal defense attorney to represent you in court. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Los Angeles, or Orange County, then make sure to  contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum for a free no obligation legal consultation.