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Carjacking vs. Grand Theft Auto

In California, the crime of carjacking is not to be confused with the criminal offense of grand theft auto. Carjacking and grand theft auto are both auto theft-related offenses, but are defined differently in the California Penal Code. With grand theft auto you are stealing a vehicle, but not in the actual presence of the owner. With carjacking, you are stealing someone else’s vehicle in the immediate presence of the owner or one of the owner’s passengers – that’s the key difference between carjacking and auto theft.

For example, let’s say that “Joe” just robbed a convenient store but he didn’t have a getaway vehicle. So, immediately after robbing the store, Joe runs outside to the parking lot. In the parking lot, Joe sees a woman pulling out of a parking spot.

Joe runs up to the driver’s side window, points a gun at the woman behind the wheel and with urgency says, “Move over!” and he climbs behind the wheel and hauls out of the parking lot with the woman beside him. This is an example of carjacking.

Carjacking Under the California Penal Code

Carjacking is criminalized under Section 215 of the California Penal Code. Sec. 215(a) reads as follows: ‘Carjacking’ is 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 the immediate presence of a passenger of the motor vehicle, against his or her will and with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of his or her possession, accomplished by force or fear.”

Anyone who is convicted of carjacking can be sentenced to a state prison term of three to nine years.In some cases, carjacking can be charged as robbery, since robbery similarly is felonious taking of someone from the immediate presence of a person. However, a person cannot be charged with robbery and carjacking for the same offense.

Grand Theft Auto

“What about grand theft auto?” Grand theft, also known as grand theft auto, is a separate offense from carjacking. Under Section 487(d)(1) of the California Penal Code, you commit the offense of grand theft if you steal an automobile valued at $950 or more.

Grand theft is a felony, punishable by a sentence in county jail not exceeding one year. For those convicted of previous vehicle theft offenses, the jail sentence will be greater. As you can see, grand theft auto is NOT as serious as carjacking.

If you have been arrested for carjacking, grand theft auto or a related theft offense, please don't hesitate to contact an Orange County criminal defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. today for a free evaluation of your case!