Carjacking is one of the most serious crimes that a person can commit in the State of Michigan. Unlike the crime of merely stealing, carjacking involves the presence of the victim with ownership or possession of the vehicle to be harmed or terrorized. A conviction for this offense can lead to a lengthy incarceration in state prison.
An individual is guilty of carjacking in Michigan, contrary to MCL 750.529a, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 18.4a):
- First, the individual used force or violence, threatened the use of force or violence, assaulted or put in fear another person.
- Second, the defendant did so while he or she was in the course of committing a larceny of a motor vehicle. A “larceny” is the taking and movement of someone else’s motor vehicle with the intent to take it away from that person permanently. “In the course of committing a larceny of a motor vehicle” includes acts that occur in an attempt to commit the larceny, or during commission of the larceny, or in flight or attempted flight after the commission of the larceny, or in an attempt to retain possession of the motor vehicle.
- Third, the other person was the operator, passenger, person in lawful possession or person attempting to recover possession of the motor vehicle.
The penalty for carjacking is a felony conviction punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years. MCL 750.529a(1). A sentence imposed for a violation of this statute may be imposed to run consecutively to any other sentence imposed for a conviction that arises out of the same transaction. MCL 750.529a(3).
The “presence” element required for carjacking does not necessary demand that the victim be personally present in the vehicle when the car is taken. The victim could be captured, bound and gagged in his own home and then the offender takes the keys from inside the house and goes into the driveway to start the victim’s car and drive it away. The Michigan Court of Appeals explains the “presence” element in People v Green, 228 Mich App 684; 580 NW2d 444 (1998):
- “When called on to interpret the “presence” requirement of the carjacking statute, this Court adopted the definition of “presence” applied in armed robbery… Under this definition, a thing is in the presence of a person if it is so within the person’s reach, inspection, observation or control, that he could, if not overcome by violence or prevented by fear, retain his possession of it. In other words, whether the taking of a motor vehicle occurs within the presence of a person, depends on the effect of violence or fear on that person’s ability to control his possession of the motor vehicle at the time of its taking. Consistent with this definition of “presence” is the notion that a thing is taken from a person at the time the person loses possession of the thing because of the effect of violence or fear. Moreover, in larceny cases, a taking occurs when the wrongdoer acquires dominion and control (i.e., possession) over the subject property. Accordingly, for purposes of the crime of carjacking, we conclude that a defendant “takes” a motor vehicle “from” another when he acquires possession of the motor vehicle through force or violence, threat of force or violence, or by putting another in fear. This definition is consistent with our interpretation of the “presence” requirement and with the other crimes in the robbery section of the Michigan Penal Code.” Id at 695-696 [internal citations omitted].
A person can only be charged with one count of carjacking per vehicle no matter how many people are present. In People v Davis, 468 Mich 77; 658 NW2d 800 (2003), an individual was charged and convicted of two counts of carjacking because there were two people present in the same vehicle. The Michigan Supreme Court vacated one of the carjacking convictions, stating:
- “This case presents the question whether defendant may be convicted twice of carjacking, M.C.L. § 750.529a, one conviction being based on the theft from the driver of the vehicle and the other conviction being based on the theft of the same vehicle from the passenger. We hold that defendant committed only one carjacking offense.” Id at 78.
- “The carjacking statute is structured in a manner similar to the armed robbery statute, M.C.L. § 750.529, [but] the focus of the armed robbery statute is significantly different. The focus of the armed robbery statute is on the person assaulted. The nature of the assault and the conduct accompanying the assault are then further defined by the statute. This perspective explains the decision in People v. Wakeford, 418 Mich. 95, 341 N.W.2d 68 (1983), in which the defendant, who took property from two employees of a grocery store, was properly convicted of two counts of armed robbery. In contrast, the carjacking statute focuses on the taking of a particular type of property, a motor vehicle, rather than on the person from whom the property is taken. In terms of the language used in Wakeford, for armed robbery the appropriate focus is the person assaulted and robbed, while the appropriate focus for carjacking is the stolen vehicle.” Id at
If you are charged with carjacking, you need a skilled criminal defense lawyer in your corner to protect your rights. You may able to assert defenses at trial that can lead to an acquittal. For example, the accused may have a sound alibi supported by witnesses that he or she was in another location when the crime allegedly occurred. The victim may not be able to properly identify the carjacker if it occurred at night or in poor weather, meaning that the prosecutor and police may have identified the wrong person. A knowledgeable lawyer in your corner will assert all the rights available to you to hold the prosecutor to the high burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you or a loved one is charged with any crime or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.