Motorists in Pennsylvania typically watch out for traffic hazards, but sometimes a thief directly tries to steal a vehicle from a driver. The thief usually uses some type of weapon to intimidate the driver into giving up the vehicle. Since 1992, federal criminal law has established potentially harsh penalties for people convicted of this form of automobile theft known as carjacking.
According to the Criminal Resource Manual for U.S. Attorneys, carjacking arises when a person threatens with bodily harm or death a person in control of a vehicle for the purpose of taking the vehicle. If no bodily harm resulted from a carjacking crime, a convicted person could be fined and sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison. When serious bodily injuries occur during the commission of the crime, then a convicted person will face fines and a prison sentence that could last as long as 25 years.
The death of a victim during the act of carjacking makes a life sentence possible for someone convicted of the crime. In 1994, the original law was amended to allow the possibility of imposing a death sentence on someone who killed a person during a car theft.
Sentencing guidelines for federal crimes often include the possibility of lengthy prison sentences. A person facing federal charges might benefit from the representation of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney could examine the evidence to see if it could reasonably support convictions on the charges. Any weakness in the prosecutor's case might create an opportunity for an attorney to ask for a reduction of charges. In addition to casting doubt on evidence, an attorney might strive to negotiate a plea deal that imposes a light sentence instead of the maximum penalties allowed by the law.