Although offenses involving motor vehicles thefts are usually prosecuted by state and local law enforcement authorities, the increased number of such offenses and the increased use of violence in connection with the offenses caused Congress to enact a federal carjacking statute. Congress also directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorneys’ offices to cooperate with state and local authorities in the investigation of such offenses and to prosecute some offenses in federal court.
The federal carjacking statute was enacted in 1992 and was amended in 1994. The statute provides that whoever, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, takes a motor vehicle from another person by force, violence, or intimidation, which motor vehicle has been transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce, commits a federal offense. The original statute included a requirement regarding the possession of a firearm. The amended statute substituted the firearm requirement with the element of an intent to cause death or serious bodily harm.
The requirement of interstate or foreign commerce is met when a motor vehicle is moved in interstate or foreign commerce. In order to prove interstate or foreign commerce, the federal government only needs to prove that the motor vehicle traveled at some time in interstate or foreign commerce, such as when the motor vehicle is manufactured in one state and is transported across state lines to another state. The government does not need to prove that the motor vehicle was moving in interstate commerce at the time that it was carjacked. It only needs to prove that the motor vehicle was moving in interstate commerce at one time in the past.
Although the constitutionality of the federal carjacking statute has been challenged in the courts, most federal courts have upheld the statute as a valid exercise of Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Those courts have found a connection between the statute and interstate commerce based on the effect of carjacking on interstate travel and on the travel of foreign citizens in the United States, based on the impact of the sale of stolen motor vehicles and their parts in interstate commerce, and based on increased insurance premiums as a result of carjackings.
The punishment for the federal offense of carjacking is severe. If no serious bodily injury or death occurred, a carjacker may be sentenced to 15 years in prison. If serious bodily injury occurred as a result of the carjacking, a carjacker may be sentenced to 25 years in prison. If a death occurred as a result of the carjacking, a carjacker may be sentenced to life in prison or may even receive the death penalty.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has the responsibility for investigating violations of the federal carjacking statute.