Carjacking is a serious offense anywhere in the U.S. However, in New Jersey, it carries a mandatory sentence of 10 to 30 years, of which five years imprisonment or 85% of the sentence, whichever is greater, must be served before you are eligible for parole. To commit the crime of carjacking, a first degree crime in New Jersey, the offender must be shown to have unlawfully taken a motor vehicle, or attempted to take a motor vehicle, while:
- Using bodily force to get control of the motor vehicle.
- Using threats, such as showing a gun or what is represented as one.
- Placing the victim in immediate fear of bodily harm through any means.
- Committing a first or second degree crime while obtaining control of the vehicle, such as assaulting a bystander or would-be rescuer.
- Taking the vehicle while the original occupants remain.
As noted, carjacking carries a mandatory prison sentence of 10 to 30 years in jail with at least five years with no parole. Pursuant to the No Early Release Act, the person must serve 85% of the sentence or 5 years, whichever is greater, before being eligible for parole.
Depending upon the offender's criminal history, bail is usually set at between $100,000 and $250,000. Unlike bail for other crimes, New Jersey law does not allow for a 10 percent cash bail option, rendering most defendants unable to make bail. The amount can be increased further if other first degree offenses are included along with the carjacking charge, such as kidnapping.
Understanding Carjacking Offenses
The person in control of the car need not be inside. If the defendant is accused of attacking the driver or an occupant outside of the vehicle in an attempt to unlawfully take the auto, it can constitute carjacking.
While the carjacking statute would suggest that the offender needs to have confronted the occupant while taking it, a child who is asleep in the vehicle at the time it is taken is also considered a victim of the offense.
Defenses to Carjacking
An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows the procedural and evidentiary rules that law enforcement and the state prosecutor must follow in any criminal case. Some possible defenses competent lawyers can assert in these cases may include:
- Challenging the police investigation. Officers may have improperly
gathered evidence through: an illegal search and seizure,
intimidation of witnesses or improperly conducted a line-up. This
could result in evidence being inadmissible at trial and the
possible reduction of sentencing or dismissal of charges.
- Discovery. The state is required to turn over its evidence to the
defendant or their attorney, including exculpatory evidence,
evidence that could point to the defendant’s innocence. Failure to
do so may result in dismissal of all charges.
- Lack of intent. There may not have been intent to unlawfully take
the vehicle. An angry spouse may take the keys for their spouse’s
vehicle and drive it away without using force. A miscommunication in
a car sales transaction may entail a potential buyer erroneously
believing he had bought a vehicle.
- Lack of force or threat to do bodily harm.
What to Do if Arrested
Police will read the standard Miranda warnings to anyone arrested and defendants need to ask for a criminal defense lawyer immediately. At that point, law enforcement is required to stop questioning the defendant, if they do not, refuse to answer and wait for legal counsel. The cardinal rule for anyone arrested or charged with a crime is to remain silent. Do not speak with the police or anyone other than your attorney regarding an offense.
If the defendant is unemployed or indigent, he or she can qualify for a public defender for representation. The public defender may not appear until their first court hearing, so it is vital that the defendant not discuss any aspect of the alleged offense with any other person, including other inmates.
Not only does carjacking carry with it a prolonged jail sentence but an offender will also have a first degree crime on their record, which will affect their ability to find employment, credit, insurance, or travel.
Consult and Retain an Attorney
Consulting and retaining an experienced criminal defense lawyer is a defendant’s only means of securing adequate representation in any criminal case. A criminal defense attorney can: explore possible defenses; challenge police procedures and prosecution witnesses; make procedural motions to exclude evidence and address mitigating circumstances or weak incriminating evidence. These strategies can reduce the charges or help obtain alternatives to incarceration for defendants.
If you or someone you know has been charged with carjacking we want to hear from you.