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Stealing a motor vehicle in Florida is a serious felony crime. Even more serious is heisting a vehicle via carjacking.

Carjacking can be charged when a defendant is accused of taking a vehicle away from someone else’s possession by way of:

  • Threat
  • Assault
  • Force
  • Violence

At The Law Offices of Richard Ansara, our Fort Lauderdale carjacking defense attorneys know that most suspects in these cases are typically charged with a first-degree felony because the crime typically involves the use of a firearm or some other deadly weapon. That means defendants are potentially facing life in prison. Those who commit carjacking without a weapon are still looking at a 30-year prison term.

This is not the kind of case you take a gamble on with whatever public defender is assigned to you. Defendants in carjacking cases need qualified representation from a legal team with ample resources and proven results.

Understanding Carjacking

Carjacking in Florida is defined in F.S. 812.133. Prosecutors in these cases have to prove the defendant:

  • Stole a motor vehicle;
  • From the custody of another individual;
  • Had the intention to forever or temporarily keep that vehicle away from the rightful owner/ possessor;
  • Used force, threats, violence or assault to carry out the theft.

The U.S. Justice Department reports there are somewhere between 38,000 and 50,000 carjackings nationally each year. Those are according to victim self-reports, so the actual number could be higher. Weapons are used in about 75 percent of carjackings. Specifically, firearms in carjackings are common, noted in about 45 percent of these. More than a dozen carjackings every year also involve a homicide.

The most common victims in these cases tend to be:

  • Persons between the ages of 25 and 49;
  • Males;
  • Tourists.

Although some assume that expensive vehicles are the most commonly targeted, the reality is it often comes down to an ample opportunity, which typically involves:

  • An unlocked vehicle;
  • An open window;
  • A distracted driver.

Distraction has become increasingly a driver phenomenon with the advent of smartphones – particularly at intersections, parking lots, driveways and parking garages, where carjacking is more likely to occur.

Carjacking Penalties

Carjacking became a federal offense with the Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992. The constitutionality of a provision of the statute was challenged on double jeopardy grounds because the carjacking law required enhanced penalties for use of a firearm, but also to a mandatory punishment under 18 U.S.C.A. Section 924(c), which made it illegal to use or carry a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in U.S. v. Singleton in 1994 ruled this violated the Double Jeopardy provision.

Later, the federal statute was changed to allow:

  • Death penalty in carjacking cases where the victim is killed;
  • The “possessing a firearm” language was replaced with “intent to cause seriously bodily harm or death.”

Although carjacking is a federal crime, there are many states – Florida included – that have their own carjacking laws.

Florida in particular has a big interest in these cases because we have a large tourist population, which are known targets. In fact, it was for this reason you will never see rental vehicles and leased cars with rental company logos. Legislators in 1993 passed F.S. 320.0601 banning this practice in order to provide tourists protection specifically against carjacking.

Most defendants arrested for carjacking in Florida are going to be charged under F.S. 812.133. However, that does not mean defendants can expect to catch a break. Carjacking is a first-degree felony and a Level 7 offense. What that means is even first-time offenders with no arrest history are likely to face severe penalties.

Florida law requires defendants convicted of carjacking to serve a minimum mandatory 21 months in prison. That is assuming no firearm or other weapon was used (rarely the case) and that no one was injured.

In carjacking cases where no weapon is involved, the maximum penalty is up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation and $10,000 in fines. Typically, we see these penalties imposed on accomplices who were unarmed.

In carjacking cases with a weapon, the offense becomes a Level 9, which means you will automatically receive a minimum sentence of four years in prison.

Meanwhile, the maximum penalty for carjacking with a firearm or other deadly weapon is life in prison.

The good news is there are probably a number of effective legal defenses that may be employed in your case. To learn more about your legal options, call our offices today.

If you have been charged with a violent crime in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011.

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