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By Spodek Law Group | February 14, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 18, 2023)

Last Updated on: 18th October 2023, 09:02 am

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

Carjacking is a scary crime that involves someone forcefully taking your car from you. It can happen anywhere – in your driveway, at a stoplight, or in a parking lot. No one wants it to happen to them, but it’s good to understand the law in case it does.

The main federal law about carjacking is 18 U.S.C. 2119. This law makes carjacking a federal crime and outlines the penalties. Let’s break it down so you know what it means if you ever encounter carjacking.

What is Carjacking?

Carjacking is when someone takes your car by force or intimidation. This includes using a weapon to threaten you to give up your car. It also includes just forcibly taking your car keys to steal the car.

So if someone points a gun at you and demands you get out of the car, that’s carjacking. Or if someone grabs your purse with your keys and drives off in your car, that’s carjacking too. It’s basically robbery, but with a car instead of cash.

What Does the Federal Carjacking Law Say?

The federal carjacking law, 18 U.S.C. 2119, says its illegal to take a motor vehicle by force and intimidation with intent to cause death or harm .

Let’s break that down:

  • Take a motor vehicle – this means taking someone’s car, truck, van, SUV, or motorcycle.
  • By force and violence or intimidation – using physical force or threats to make the person give up the car.
  • With intent to cause death or harm – planning to hurt or kill the driver when taking the car.

So if someone uses a weapon or threat to make you give them your car, they are violating this law. Even if they don’t actually hurt you, just intimidating you with a weapon is enough.

What Are the Penalties?

If convicted of federal carjacking, the penalties can be severe:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Fine of up to $250,000
  • Probation up to 5 years after release

And if someone is seriously hurt or killed during the carjacking, the penalties go up to 25 years to life in prison or even the death penalty.

So carjacking is not taken lightly by the law. The penalties reflect how seriously it threatens people’s safety.

What Makes It a Federal Crime?

You may wonder why carjacking is a federal issue, not just a state crime. There’s a few reasons its a federal law :

  • Carjacking often involves transporting stolen cars across state lines
  • It affects interstate commerce since cars are made and sold across state lines
  • It allows federal resources to help investigate and prosecute

So the federal law helps coordinate efforts to reduce carjacking across the country. But state laws against robbery and assault also apply to carjacking.

What Defenses Apply?

If you are accused of carjacking, there are a few legal defenses that could help your case :

  • You didn’t use force or intimidation – it was voluntary
  • You didn’t intend to deprive the owner permanently of the car
  • You had permission to take the car – it was a misunderstanding
  • You had no intent to harm – it was just to steal the car
  • You were falsely accused or mistaken identity

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can argue these defenses and negotiate reduced charges if the situation warrants it. They know how to challenge the prosecution’s evidence and cast doubt on intent.

What Should You Do if Carjacked?

Hopefully you never experience a carjacking. But if you do, cooperating is usually the safest option. Don’t try to resist or be a hero – just give them the car . Your life is more valuable than a car.

Then report it to police right away with descriptions of the carjacker and any details that can help. Check if your insurance covers carjacking too. And seek counseling if you need help coping with the trauma.

With awareness and caution, we can try to prevent carjacking. But the law is there to punish it severely if it occurs. Stay safe out there!



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