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What is Carjacking?

A carjacking is a robbery in which the property taken from the victim is a motor vehicle.  Both private and commercial motor vehicles can be the object of carjackings.

Florida Statute 812.133 and Florida Standard Jury Instruction 15.2 inform us that carjacking comprises three elements:

  1. The defendant took a motor vehicle from the victim.
  2. Force, violence, assault, or putting in fear was used in the taking.
  3. The defendant intended to deprive the victim of their right to the motor vehicle, even if temporarily.

While there is no requirement that a weapon be used for a crime to meet the definition of carjacking, the use of a weapon by a defendant during a carjacking may mean the crime will be eligible for an enhanced sentence.

Tampa, Florida Carjacking Charges

The term “carjacking” is generally understood to be a mash-up of “car” and “hijacking.”  Despite cars and robberies existing together for most of the twentieth century, the first use of “carjacking” in print was in The Detroit News in 1991 to describe an incident in which a young woman was killed for not surrendering her personal vehicle.  The mythical Florida Man was not to be outdone, however, and soon put his own stamp on the crime.

Tourism destinations such as the Tampa Bay Area, Orlando, and South Florida saw their visitors (and their spending money) become targets.  Robberies in which vehicles were taken away from their drivers in Florida were identified as a problem across the state and codified as carjackings in 1993.  The legislature acted further, banning car rental companies from attaching bumper stickers and other obvious “rental” designations on their vehicles.  This came after several companies began doing so voluntarily.

Today carjackers in Florida face greater potential penalties than those who commit simple robberies.  A robbery in which an aircraft is taken is piracy (Florida Statute 860.16), not hijacking.  A robbery in which a boat is taken is simply a robbery under Florida’s statutory scheme- there is not a “boatjacking” statute.  A robbery in which a motor vehicle is taken in Florida is a uniquely a “jacking.”  Thus, when Dr. Dre spoke of checking the rearview mirror of his ’64 Impala while in southern California for those making  “jack moves”, he unknowingly gave sage advice to Florida motor vehicle drivers consistent with our statutes.

If you or a loved one has been charged with carjacking, it is recommended to call an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa.

What are the penalties for Carjacking in Florida?

Carjacking is a first degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of thirty years in prison.  Carjacking is a level 7 offense, and will score 56 points as a primary offense or 28 points as an additional offense.

Armed carjacking (with a firearm or other deadly weapon) is a first degree PBL (punishable by life) with a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Armed carjacking is a level 9 offense, and will score 92 points as a primary offense or 46 points as an additional offense.

If a victim is injured in a carjacking, increased penalties including additional prison time are a distinct possibility.

Carjacking is a qualifying offense and a predicate offense for enhanced sentences such as HFO, HVFO, and PRR.

Defenses to Carjacking in Florida?

 Because robbery is a lesser included offense of carjacking, all defenses applicable to robbery are possible defenses to carjacking.  Some common defenses include the following:

  1. Afterthought. If the taking of a vehicle was done after and separately from an assault of its driver, then the acts mat not be considered part of the same course of conduct.  While not a complete defense to criminal activity, such a defense reduces a defendant’s exposure.
  1. Mere presence. If a carjacking defendant has co-defendants, there is often the possibility that one actor committed the crime alone, while others were merely present at the scene.  This defense is specifically recognized in the Florida Standard Jury Instructions.
  1. Claim of right. A defendant may have a good faith and legitimate claim to ownership or custody of the motor vehicle in question, negating an essential element of the crime.
  1. No motor vehicle. While DUI laws in Florida apply to those driving scooters, bicycles, mopeds, and even horses, “motor vehicle” in a carjacking is a much narrower term.  It is a legal impossibility to carjack a victim of their bicycle or moped.  However, it is possible to carjack someone of their vehicle trailer.

Carjacking Defense Attorney Tampa

 The serious nature of a carjacking charge requires a thoughtful and thorough approach from the defense.  Experience can make the difference.  Call attorney Joel Elsea of Elsea Law Firm, P.A., for a free consultation with a Tampa criminal defense attorney with years of experience handling serious and violent felony cases in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

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