California State Carjacking Law and Landmark Cases

The Legislature created the crime of carjacking in 1993. (People v. Lopez (2003) 31 Cal.4th 1051, 1057 (Lopez).) Penal Code Section 215 defines "carjacking" as the taking by force or fear of a motor vehicle, with the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the victim of the vehicle. (Stats. 1993, ch. 611, 6, p. 3508, eff. Oct. 1, 1993.) This was part of a bill that contained an urgency clause as follows: "In order to protect the people of this state from the extreme danger posed by an increasing number of carjackings and to provide a level of punishment sufficient to deter the commission of these violent crimes, it is necessary that this act take effect immediately." (Stats. 1993, ch. 611, 65, p. 3619.) "'Carjacking' is the felonious taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence . . . against his or her will and with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of a motor vehicle of his or her possession, accomplished by means of force or fear." ( 215, subd. (a).) Thus, establishing a "carjacking" requires the People to show "either an intent to permanently or temporarily" "take" a vehicle from a person possessing it, a passenger in it, or such a person's immediate presence, by means of force or fear. (Lopez, supra, at pp. 1058-1059.) Furthermore, as is true for the crime of robbery, asportation is one of the elements of a carjacking. "'"No great movement is required, and it is not necessary that the property be taken out of the physical presence of the victim." "Slight movement" is enough."'" (Lopez, supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 1060, 1062-1063.) Indeed, "'"any removal, however slight"'" is sufficient. (Id. at p. 1060.) Thus, it has been said regarding asportation that whether a defendant "conveyed the car one yard or one mile . . . is immaterial." (People v. Clark (1945) 70 Cal.App.2d 132, 133, followed in People v. Cooper (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1158, 1165.) Carjacking is often a robbery in which a vehicle is taken. ( 215, subd. (a).) Its sentencing triad is higher than for robbery. (Compare 215, subd. (b) with 213, subd. (a)(1)(B).) But a carjacking conviction can be based on the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the victim of a car, whereas a robbery requires the intent to permanently deprive a person of property. (Dominguez, supra, 38 Cal.App.4th at pp. 417-419; see People v. Ortega (1998) 19 Cal.4th 686, 700, overruled on another point in Reed, supra, 38 Cal.4th at pp. 1228-1229.) Because a person can commit a carjacking by forcibly taking a vehicle with the intent to joyride, robbery is not a lesser included offense of carjacking. (In re Travis W. (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 368, 373 (Travis W.) "Nevertheless, there is an undeniable measure of overlap between robbery and carjacking."; People v. Green (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1076, 1083-1084; Dominguez, supra, 38 Cal.App.4th at p. 418.) The difference in the required intent was no accident. One reason for creating the new offense of carjacking was that many " ' "gang carjackings are thrill-seeking thefts" ' " and it was difficult to prove intent to permanently deprive the victim of the car. (Travis W., supra, 107 Cal.App.4th at pp. 374-375, 377.) Section 215 contains the following unique provision: "This section shall not be construed to supersede or affect Section 211. A person may be charged with a violation of this section and Section 211. However, no defendant may be punished under this section and Section 211 for the same act which constitutes a violation of both this section and Section 211." ( 215, subd. (c).)