Chicago Carjacking Defense Lawyer

What is “Carjacking?”

Most people are familiar with the term “Carjacking” and know that it is against the law. But what exactly is Carjacking under the law in the State of Illinois? What are the possible penalties? The basic answers to these questions are that it is a serious crime and that if one is found guilty of committing it, that it will result in serious consequences in the form of a felony conviction and a significant sentence to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

There Must be Force or Threat of Force

carjackingThe offense is more technically referred to in the Illinois Code as “Vehicular Hijacking.” One commits vehicular hijacking when one knowingly takes a motor vehicle from the person or the immediate presence of another person by the use of force or the imminent threat of the use of force. So, what does that mean? It means that one must physically take the vehicle from the other person, using one’s own power, whether it is by hitting, kicking, punching, pulling, or threatening to do so, in order to get possession of the vehicle.

Sometimes, people incorrectly refer to other crimes that occur by using a term that is actually a much more serious and different crime under the laws of Illinois by saying that someone has been “robbed” when in reality their home was burglarized when no one was home, when someone broke into their car and stole property, or when someone stole their purse out of their cart at the grocery store while their back was turned. If you were to tell anyone associated with law enforcement or the criminal justice system that someone they know had been “robbed,” their first response would likely be “are they okay, were they hurt?”, because robbery involves the taking of property by use of force, or the threat of the immediate use of force against the person, from the person or from their belongings. So, in this way, vehicular hijacking is to auto theft what robbery is to a personal theft or burglary, in that vehicular hijacking and robbery involve “force or threat of force”, whereas auto theft and burglary do not.

For example, you would be the victim of a “carjacking” if you were with your car and someone came up and forced you out of the vehicle or threatened to harm you if you did not give up the keys. But If  you went into the gas station to buy a lottery ticket, a pack of cigarettes, a beverage, or whatever, and someone then jumped into your running car and drove away, that would not be a carjacking or vehicular hijacking as no force/threat of force was utilized. You would however be the victim of a theft and (incidentally and unfortunately) probably guilty of the motor vehicle traffic offense of leaving a running vehicle unattended (now you know why leaving your car running is sometimes against the law).

Without the involvement of a dangerous weapon, simple vehicular hijacking is still a Class 1 Felony, which can carry a prison sentence of 4-15 years, although someone with no prior criminal history might still receive probation for up to 4 years with a potential jail sentence of up to 6 months as part of said probation.

Chicago Carjacking Defense Lawyer

Aggravated Vehicular Hijacking and Enhanced Penalties

If one commits a vehicular hijacking against a victim who suffers from a physical disability, or is 60 years of age or older, or if there is a passenger in the vehicle under the age of 16, it is a Class X felony, which carries no option for probation and carries a period of mandatory prison of 6 to 30 years. If a dangerous weapon, not a firearm, is being carried on or about the person during the commission of the offense, it is still a Class X felony, but the mandatory minimum sentence is seven (7) years, not six (6). If one is armed with a firearm, it becomes a Class X, plus a mandatory 15 years is added to whatever sentence the Judge may render, which translates to 21 to 45 years in prison. If one personally discharges a firearm during the commission of the offense, where no one was actually injured, then add 20 years, for a range of 26 to 50 years in prison. If someone personally discharges a firearm that “proximately” causes another great bodily harm, permanent disfigurement or disability or death, the range of sentencing is 6-30 years plus 25 years to natural life in prison, or 31 years to life. In the event the person does die, one can also expect to be charged with First Degree Murder, with a potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison, under the Felony Murder Doctrine.

Carjacking and Juvenile Offenders

For Juvenile offenders, there are no mandatory penalties for the disposition of the Juvenile Delinquency Petition in court. Juveniles are treated differently in this regard, because the goal is to rehabilitate a juvenile offender, and turn them towards the path of being a useful member of society. However, in recognition of the danger that juvenile offenders create to the public in the area of “carjacking,” the law specifically directs a juvenile court judge, in considering whether or not to release an alleged offender pending a hearing or to detain the juvenile in the custody of the county’s detention facility, to place great weight upon any prior finding of juvenile delinquency based upon a prior vehicular, or aggravated vehicular, hijacking.

Even when a juvenile is ordered to be detained while the case is pending in court, the stated goal of the system is to rehabilitate, not punish, the juvenile. A sentence to the Juvenile Department of Corrections is not a fixed term like in the adult world of criminal procedure. A juvenile can only be detained up to their 21st birthday. Typically, delinquent minors are released from such custody early as long as they participate in the educational and work programs that are made available to them, and they do not commit violations of the rules of the facility.

It is likely that such a facility would also consider a juvenile’s previous history in determining eligibility for early release, and it is easy to imagine that someone who repeatedly commits the offense of vehicular hijacking will eventually be denied any early release.  Of course, if death results from an aggravated vehicular hijacking case and the juvenile is 15 years of age or older, one can expect the matter to be transferred to adult court for prosecution under the laws as they apply to adults. So, minors should not assume that you will be treated lightly to a slap on the wrist if they commit this crime.

Vehicular Invasion

What about the situation where one does not take possession of the automobile, but commits a felony or theft within an occupied vehicle? In the past, the law did not provide for special penalties for one who broke into an occupied car in order to commit a crime against the persons or property therein. In the past, a street crime known as the “smash and grab” came about. In a smash and grab, a person would approach a vehicle stopped in traffic, smash the side window, and grab whatever property was within their reach, whether it was from the passenger seat or from a person (such as a necklace). It has been the law for quite some time now that anyone who knowingly, by use of force, enters into or reaches into an automobile that is known to be occupied, intending to commit a theft or other felony therein, commits Vehicular Invasion. The offense is a Class 1 felony, punishable by a period of incarceration of 4 to 15 years, or probation up to 4 years, and a potential 6 months in jail during the probation.

Prior to the enactment of this law, the highest crime that a prosecutor or police officer could charge was burglary to an auto, a class 2 felony, or robbery, also a class 2 felony, which might result in a prison term of 3 to 7 years or a similar probationary sentence. Clearly, the law recognizes that an offense is more serious when persons are present and force is involved than when no one is present and no force is involved. This is similar to the difference between burglary and home invasion. One has to have the knowledge of the presence of persons within, plus the willingness to nevertheless commit the crime using force to do so, in order to elevate the seriousness of the offense.

So, if someone breaks into an automobile without knowing someone was inside, perhaps a van with no side windows to see into the back, in order to steal the radio, then wakes up the person asleep in the back, and then flees with the property, that is not vehicular invasion because the presence of the person therein was unknown and no force was used to commit the offense. But what if the thief, now knowing there is someone present, proceeds to use force or the threat of force to take the property? That still does not become vehicular invasion, because the law requires that knowledge of persons present must exist prior to the entry. Instead, the offense should more rightfully be charged as robbery or aggravated robbery, rather than burglary to an auto or theft.

Hire an Experienced Legal Team When Charged with a Serious Offense

Often, the police and prosecution will proceed on Vehicular Hijacking or Vehicular Invasion charges when the facts actually reveal that the lesser offenses of theft or burglary were more accurately committed. Knowing the difference between the offenses may mean the difference between a lengthy prison term versus a lesser sentence likely to involve probation. Contact our experienced Chicago theft and robbery defense lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC for a free consultation about your particular circumstances at (312) 644-0444 or contact us online.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : January 10, 2023