Fourth Circuit Holds Carjacking Is a Crime of Violence

crimeUnder the federal sentencing guidelines, certain crimes are subject to mandatory periods of imprisonment. Under Section 924(c), whenever a defendant commits a crime of violence that involves the use of a firearm, the defendant must, at the least, be subjected to a consecutive mandatory sentence of at least 10 years in prison. Determining what constitutes a crime of violence under this section has been a subject of much debate. In a recent case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court evaluated whether the crime of carjacking can be a crime of violence.

J.E. was charged with carjacking after an incident that occurred in July 2013. He was riding in a vehicle owned by his friend A.D. He asked A.D. to stop in a nearby parking lot to meet his cousin. Once they arrived, J.E. ordered A.D. out of the car, pointed a pistol at him, and shot A.D. in each leg. He then stole A.D.’s wallet and car and left him in the parking lot. A.D. eventually rallied to the road and was helped by a stranger. J.E. was subsequently charged with carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury and with committing a crime of violence. J.E. moved to dismiss the allegation that the carjacking charge constituted a crime of violence, but the court denied the motion. J.E. ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to 96 months in jail in addition to his mandatory 10-year sentence under 924(c). He appealed.

Under Section 924(c), special criminal penalties can be applied whenever a firearm is used in relation to a crime of violence. A crime of violence is any felony in which either (1) there are elements of the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another person, or (2) the felony by its nature involves a substantial risk of physical force. Furthermore, physical force has been interpreted to mean a substantial degree of force. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit determined that it was required to figure out whether the offense of carjacking involved the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force. Under Section 2119, carjacking occurs when someone, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, takes a motor vehicle from a person by force and violence, or by intimidation, or attempts to do so…” On appeal, J.E. argued that since Section 2119 allows a person to be convicted for “intimidation,” which is not part of a crime of violence, carjacking also is not a crime of violence.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed. It read Section 2119 to say mean that “by intimidation” meant “by threat of violent force,” which is consistent with Section 924(c). The court noted that similar interpretations had been adopted by other courts evaluating the carjacking statute, and this was also consistent with the plain language of the statute. Since carjacking involved force, attempted force, or the threat of force, the Fourth Circuit concluded that it met the requirements for a crime of violence under Section 924(c) and upheld the trial court’s denial of J.E.’s motion to dismiss.

When criminal defendants are involved in violent or potentially violent crimes, the additional threat of being charged with a crime of violence and being sentenced to mandatory jail time can exist. Arguing that your charges fall outside the scope of Section 924(c) can be very complicated and requires the analysis and input of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years and can help you evaluate whether you may be subject to potential liability for a crime of violence. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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