Federal Carjacking Charge Illustrates Expansive Federal Jurisdiction

A Texas man accused of beating a woman with a fire extinguisher in a parking garage while stealing her car and personal belongings was charged with felony robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. 


He was actually arrested twice in connection with the incident, making bail both times on the offenses. First impression is that state authorities were appropriately addressing the criminal action. 


But long, overreaching arm of the federal government did not think so. Federal prosecutors decided to him the same man with a federal carjacking charge for the same incident. You may be curious about how that could happen!


Texas Man Didn’t Cross State Lines, But the Vehicle He Stole Did


Although the man did not take the car out of state, it was manufactured in Mississippi and shipped to Texas. Federal prosecutors were able to stretch jurisdiction over the matter and file a charge according to interstate and foreign commerce laws. 


Although violent crimes such as carjacking are typically prosecuted in state courts, this case illustrates how expansive federal jurisdiction can be, should federal prosecutors become interested in the case, particularly if they are trying to gin up their prosecution rate.


The Crime of Carjacking Defined


Carjacking is considered a violent crime due to the potential for bodily harm. Securing a conviction requires the following elements to be proven:


  • Taking a vehicle in the presence or possession of its owner/driver against their will
  • Intent to deprive the victim of possession
  • Use of force, fear, or threat of bodily harm 


The Subtle Difference Between Carjacking and Auto Theft


Just as there are legal differences between theft and robbery, carjacking differs from auto theft in that the vehicle must be taken directly from the owner or person in possession of the vehicle using force or the threat of force. 


What Makes Carjacking a Federal Offense


Carjacking is illegal at both the state and federal levels. In other words, each state has its own statutes covering carjacking crimes, but federal law and court precedent allows federal prosecutors to also prosecute the case. 


The only difference between state and federal carjacking charges is that federal prosecution of carjacking requires that the vehicle be “transported, shipped or received in foreign commerce” by the victim or vehicle’s owner. 


Crossing State Lines Makes Carjacking a Federal Crime


This means that if the car was driven, transported or transferred across state lines (or if companies  receive the vehicles shipped to the U.S. from another country), carjacking of that vehicle qualifies as a federal offense. 


Most vehicles have been transported across state or federal lines at some point, meaning that most carjackings can fall under federal jurisdiction if the federal government elects to prosecute. 


Nearly Every Car Crosses State Lines at Some Time


When a crime falls under both state and federal jurisdictions, whether it is prosecuted at the state or federal level is left to the discretion of prosecutors. 


For example, in the Dallas case mentioned above, federal prosecutors opted to charge the defendant with federal carjacking because the defendant had bailed out of the county jail twice for an offense that left the victim severely injured. 


Houston Federal Carjacking Lawyer

What Happens After a Federal Carjacking Conviction


Federal prosecution is never good news. Federal sentencing guidelines are notoriously severe. If you’re hit with federal carjacking charges, you face severe sentencing and penalties, including:


  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Fine up to $250,000


When a victim also suffers serious bodily injury as a result of the offense, such as in the case above, the penalties are enhanced: 


  • Up to 25 years in prison
  • Fine up to $250,000


Importantly, federal inmates are not eligible for parole. This means that you will be serving out roughly 87 percent of the sentence you receive under penal supervision before being placed under community supervision.