Carjacking is a form of robbery in which a car is taken directly from a person by force, threat, or use or threat of the use of a weapon. Sometimes, the terms "robbery" and "burglary" are used in the wrong context. A robbery is always a crime against a person whereas a burglary is a crime against property. Obviously, robbery is a much more serious charge than burglary.
Carjacking can occur with or without the use of a weapon. It is possible for somebody to take somebody else's car by force without using a weapon. This is still a carjacking, but it is a 1st degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 30 years. Under these circumstances, an accused person will be permitted to post a bond since the crime is not punishable by life in prison.
However, if a weapon or firearm is used, the crime becomes a non-bondable charge. Under these circumstances, unless the State of Florida doesn't file charges within the allotted period of time (maximum of 40 days), an Arthur Hearing will be the only mechanism in which pretrial release may be obtained.
Furthermore, Florida's tough firearm law, 10-20-Life, applies to the crime of carjacking if a firearm is used. If the firearm is possessed by the accused, a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence applies. If the firearm is discharged (fired), a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence applies. If during the course of the carjacking, the alleged victim is shot or killed, a mandatory prison sentence of 25 to life applies. Additionally, other charges may accompany the carjacking charge such as aggravated battery, attempted murder, or murder.
Carjacking is a serious charge, however, oftentimes it can be a defensible charge. One of the more common defenses is identity.
A typical carjacking plays out like this: Somebody is robbed of their car. There are no witnesses to the crime other than the alleged victim. The alleged victim calls the police and gives a description of the suspect. The police issue a BOLO (be on the lookout) for that suspect.
Basic psychology shows that in the midst of a traumatic, high-adrenaline situation (such as being the victim of a violent crime), the brain is not able to comprehend as clearly and as detailed as it normally would.
Your body is overcome with fear. You may not be able to focus or remember details about the perpetrator other than a very limited, basic physical description.
For that reason, carjacking suspects are usually described in a very general fashion. White male/black male/Hispanic male, wide age range (18-25), wide height range (5'8 - 6'0), wide weight range (150 - 180 pounds).
Details about their clothing are slim as well. But with this information, the police will go out looking for a suspect.
Now if the suspect is found driving the recently carjacked vehicle, the evidence against them may be much stronger, even with a vague description.
However, many carjacked cars are either never recovered, or are recovered abandoned hours, days, or even weeks later.
If physical evidence is found inside of the car, such as fingerprints or DNA, the State's case against the accused will be stronger. But many times, there is no physical evidence found.
If the evidence of guilt is strong, a South Florida criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable plea resolution. For young defendants (21 years of age and younger), Youthful Offender sanctions may be available. For defendants 21 and older, sentences can range from community control or probation all the way up to prison, depending on the facts, the strength of the evidence, the defendant's prior criminal history, and the wishes of the alleged victim.
If the defendant is a juvenile, they will more than likely be direct filed to adult court if they are 16 years of age or older. If they are 14 or older, they may be direct filed, but this only occurs (typically) if a firearm is used.
If you or someone you know have been arrested for carjacking, call me to discuss the case. I practice criminal defense exclusively in Miami-Dade County and Broward County.