If you think that you might face criminal charges for carjacking, you likely have many questions. You may be wondering if carjacking is a federal crime. The quick answer is yes, carjacking is a federal crime. In Pennsylvania, carjacking can also be a state criminal offense.
Carjacking as a Federal Offense
The federal carjacking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2119, makes it illegal to take someone else’s motor vehicle by force, violence, or intimidation. An unsuccessful attempt to perform a carjacking is also a violation of the federal law against carjacking.
This statute contains two additional requirements:
- The car must have traveled in interstate or foreign commerce to fall under federal jurisdiction. Most vehicles do travel across state or international lines at some point after manufacture to get to a dealer and then to the ultimate purchaser, so it is seldom difficult to satisfy this factor.
- The prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted “with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm” when taking the vehicle. This element is not always easy to prove, which is why many prosecutors prefer to press state charges rather than federal charges of carjacking.
The federal statute used to require that the defendant possessed a firearm when taking the vehicle. In 1994, Congress amended the statute and replaced that language with the requirement of having the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm.
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Penalties for a Conviction Under the Federal Carjacking Statute
The consequences of a conviction for violating the federal carjacking statute are severe. The penalties can include:
- Imprisonment for up to 15 years
- Both imprisonment and fines
If someone suffers a serious bodily injury as a result of the offense, the imprisonment can be up to 25 years. In the event that the carjacking causes someone’s death, the offender could receive imprisonment for any number of years up to and including a life sentence, or the offender could receive a death sentence.
Carjacking Is Also a State Crime in Pennsylvania
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3702 says that it is a first-degree felony if a person “steals or takes a motor vehicle from another person in the presence of that person or any other person in lawful possession of the motor vehicle.” The statute allows for a sentencing enhancement if someone gets convicted of carjacking.
The Pennsylvania statute does not require a showing of intent to cause death or serious bodily harm. Because a prosecutor can win a conviction more easily under state law than federal law, an individual is most likely to face state carjacking charges rather than federal charges.
Let’s say that a person leaves a shopping mall and walks up to their car in the parking lot. If someone jumps out, takes the keys, and steals the vehicle, that scenario could get charged as a carjacking. It is also carjacking if someone takes the car in the presence of someone who borrowed the vehicle from the owner.
Penalties for a Carjacking Conviction Under Pennsylvania Law
Because carjacking is a felony of the first degree under our state law, a person convicted of this offense can get sentenced to serve up to 20 years in prison, according to 18 Pa. C.S.A § 1103. The fine can be up to $25,000, under 18 Pa. C.S.A § 1101.
Consequences of a Carjacking Conviction
Whether you get convicted of the federal crime of carjacking or the state first-degree felony of carjacking, the impact on your life can be significant. After you serve your sentence and pay your fine, you might expect that you can return to your previous life; however, that result is seldom possible.
You have to disclose your criminal record or sign an authorization for other people to obtain a copy of your criminal record in many situations, for example:
- When you apply for a new job
- When you join the military
- When you apply for security clearance
- When you want to rent an apartment
- If you already have a job, your employee handbook or contract might require you to tell your boss if you get arrested or convicted of a crime.
It is highly likely that having a carjacking conviction on your record will make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to have a good job or career, live in a nice area, or achieve other goals in your life.
Defenses to Carjacking Charges
The unique facts of your situation will determine which defenses might be available to you. Sometimes, it is possible to get the charges lowered to a less serious offense if you can successfully attack one of the required elements of the crime.
For a federal offense, you could argue that you did not intend for anyone to get hurt or killed. You should be aware, however, that the court will decide issues like intent based on the facts.
The owner might not have been anywhere near the vehicle when you took it. It could be possible to beat carjacking charges if the owner or authorized user was not near the vehicle because the federal and state carjacking laws require taking the car from the presence of the owner or another person.
You do not want to gamble with your future. The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC can provide aggressive representation to protect your legal rights and go after the best possible outcome in your circumstances.