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Federal Carjacking Law - 18 U.S.C. 2119

We all know that stealing a car is against the law. In most cases, car theft cases are prosecuted at the state level under state law. There are, however, specific instances where an individual accused of stealing a car can be charged at the federal level.

When carjacking is prosecuted in a federal court, the prison sentences for anyone convicted are usually longer, and the fines are much higher than those for a conviction at the state level.

Federal Carjacking Law - 18 U.S.C. 2119

Under 18 U.S.C. 2119, carjacking is a federal crime when someone takes a motor vehicle transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce. In other words, the car must cross state or country lines for the crime to be filed as a federal offense.

The statute has language that says for federal carjacking to occur, the vehicle must be taken from someone by use of force, violence, or intimidation.

The same statute also includes attempting to use force or intimidation, even unsuccessfully. Also, under federal law, the force or intimidation has to be done with the intent to cause serious bodily injury or death. 18 U.S.C. 1203 defines the hostage taking law.

For a federal prosecutor to obtain a conviction, they must prove certain factors, including that you knowingly took a vehicle being shipped or received across state or national borders and used force, violence, or intimidation. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review this statute in greater detail below.

18 U.S. Code § 2119 Explained

Carjacking is outlawed at the federal level under 18 U.S. Code § 2119 if all the following things are alleged to have taken place:

  • The accused must have taken a vehicle that has been transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce,
  • The accused must have taken the vehicle by using force or intimidation,
  • The accused took the car knowingly, and
  • The accused intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to the victim when the car was demanded or taken

An individual could be properly charged and convicted under this statute even if they were not successful in stealing the car but attempted to do so.

The significant difference between state carjacking charges and this federal law is that the car in question must have been traveling across the state or international borders for the purpose of interstate commerce.

Federal Carjacking Defense Lawyer

So, if the car was transported to California from Nevada to deliver to the buyer and was stolen along the way, then federal charges would be appropriate.

The primarily related offense to federal carjacking is state carjacking. In California, this offense can be found within the California Penal Code at 215 PC.

Under this law, it is illegal to take a vehicle from another through force or fear. A conviction under this charge can result in up to nine years in prison.

This sentence can be increased if a gun was used in the commission of the crime or if death or severe injury resulted from it.

What Are the Potential Penalties for Carjacking?

The potential penalties for a carjacking conviction vary based on the level of harm that occurred during the alleged carjacking.

The more serious the injury or harm that occurs, the more severe the punishment is from the federal court. Penalties for federal carjacking under 18 U.S.C. 2119 are as follows:

  • If no injury or harm results from the alleged carjacking, then the maximum possible penalty is 15 years in federal prison along with a fine;
  • If a serious bodily injury resulted from the alleged carjacking, then the maximum possible penalty is 25 years in federal prison along with a fine;
  • If a death resulted from the alleged carjacking, the maximum possible penalty could be the death penalty or a life sentence along with a fine.

The federal court's determination of your intent depends on the case's details. The courts have ruled that “intent” is evaluated once you demand or take control of the vehicle.

As you can see, the potential penalties under the sentencing guidelines for federal carjacking can be severe, along with the possible other charges that can be included. It is essential to determine if viable defenses exist if you are charged with federal carjacking.

What Are Some Possible Defenses for Carjacking?

Several defenses might be available if you are charged with carjacking under federal law.

These defenses are case-specific, so it is essential to have your case professionally evaluated by an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if these defenses apply to your case. Some of the most common defenses to federal carjacking include:

The vehicle did not travel across state lines or an international border. If the car in question did not cross a state or international border, the most that can happen is a state carjacking charge. The case would not be applicable for federal prosecution.

Defenses for Federal Carjacking Charges

The vehicle was not fully built when it was being transported. If the vehicle was still in the process of being built and was not an operational vehicle, then it does not meet the definition of ‘vehicle' under federal law.

You did not have the intent to cause death or serious injury. Suppose the facts and circumstances show that the alleged carjacking was completed without using a threat of lethal force or the intent to cause serious injury? In that case, a federal charge is inappropriate.

The vehicle was not in the driver/owner's proximity. The vehicle in question must be within the owner or driver's control or proximity during the alleged carjacking for a federal charge to be appropriate.

These are just some defenses that might be available if you are charged with federal carjacking. You can also be charged under state law if a state prosecutor decides to authorize criminal charges under state law for carjacking.

Perhaps we could negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a lesser offense or convince them there is insufficient evidence to convict you, which might result in dropped charges. If guilt is not in doubt in your carjacking case, we are skilled negotiators that might be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain.

Eisner Gorin LLP, based in Los Angeles, California, provides legal representation to people across the United States against any federal offense. Contact our law firm at (877) 781-1570 or use the contact form.

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