18 U.S.C. § 2119 - Federal Carjacking Law
Most people are unaware that carjacking can be charged as a federal crime. If convicted at the federal level, the prison sentences and fines are typically more severe than a conviction at the state level.
18 U.S.C. 2119 federal carjacking statute makes it a crime to take someone's vehicle by force, violence, or intimidation. Notably, an unsuccessful carjacking attempt also violates federal law.
Under this statute, however, the vehicle must have traveled in interstate or foreign commerce to fall under federal jurisdiction. Since most vehicles travel across state or international lines after manufacturing to get to a dealer, proving this element of the crime is not always challenging.
However, the prosecutor must also prove that the defendant acted with intent to cause serious bodily harm or death when taking the vehicle, which is more difficult to ascertain and is one of the reasons most carjacking cases are prosecuted in state courts.
The statute also says that the vehicle must be taken from someone by force, violence, or intimidation for federal carjacking. To obtain a conviction for an 18 U.S.C. 2119 carjacking offense, federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the crime.
This means they must prove that you knowingly took the vehicle and used force, violence, or intimidation. Further, it must be shown that the car was transported, shipped, or received across state or national borders.
Finally, it must be proven that you also intended to cause death or serious bodily harm while taking the vehicle from another person. Let's review this federal law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
18 U.S. Code 2119 says, “Whoever, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm  takes a motor vehicle that has been transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce from the person or presence of another by force and violence or by intimidation, or attempts to do so, shall….”
As noted, to file federal carjacking charges, all of the below must have occurred:
- Vehicle was transported or shipped in interstate or foreign commerce;
- Vehicle was taken by using force or intimidation;
- Vehicle was knowingly taken, and
- Perpetrator intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to the victim when the vehicle was demanded or taken
As noted, you could be charged and convicted under this statute even if you did not successfully steal the car and attempted to do so.
The primary difference between state and federal carjacking charges is that the car must have traveled across the state or international borders for interstate commerce. Notably, courts have ruled that “intent” is evaluated once you demand or take control of the vehicle.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 103 Robbery and Burglary has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 2119 Motor Vehicles, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 2111 - Special maritime and territorial jurisdiction;
- 18 U.S.C. 2112 - Personal property of United States;
- 18 U.S.C. 2113 - Bank robbery and incidental crimes;
- 18 U.S.C. 2114 - Mail, money, or other property of the United States;
- 18 U.S.C. 2115 - Post office;
- 18 U.S.C. 2116 - Railway or steamboat post office;
- 18 U.S.C. 2117 - Breaking or entering carrier facilities;
- 18 U.S.C. 2118 - Robberies and burglaries involving controlled substances;
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 2119?
Suppose you are convicted of violating this federal law. In that case, the penalties will vary based on the details of the carjacking incident, explicitly dealing with any victim injuries, as follows:
- If there were no injuries, the maximum penalty is 15 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a fine;
- If the victim suffered serious bodily injuries, the maximum penalty is 25 years in federal prison and a fine;
- If the victim was killed during the carjacking, the maximum penalty could be “any number of years up to life” or sentenced to death.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 2119?
Suppose you are accused of violating the federal carjacking law. In that case, our federal criminal defense lawyers could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that the vehicle did not travel across state lines or an international border. If this can be proven, the case would not be applicable for federal prosecution, but you could still be charged with state carjacking charges with lesser penalties.
Perhaps we can argue that the vehicle was not fully built when transported. If it was still in the building process and not operational, it does not meet the definition of a “vehicle” under federal laws.
Perhaps we can argue that you did not intend to cause serious injury or death. Suppose the details of the carjacking case show it was completed without using a threat of lethal force or the intent to cause serious injury. In that case, federal jurisdiction should not apply.
Perhaps we can argue that the vehicle was not in the driver's proximity. To be charged, the car has to be within the driver's control or proximity during the alleged incident for a federal charge to be appropriate.
Depending on the details of the incident, there might be other valid defense strategies. Sometimes, the potential federal carjacking case will be sent to state prosecutors.
Maybe we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a lesser crime or persuade them that there is insufficient evidence for a conviction, which may force them to drop the case.
Suppose your guilt is not in doubt. In that case, we might be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain with the prosecutor. You can contact our law firm by phone or through the contact form for a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.