Carjacking — a new law lacking any new consequence

The Minnesota Legislature appeared to address one of our most vexing criminal issues this past legislative session: carjacking. However, it’s turning out to be an inconsequential move. You can help change that in July.


One of the most damaging crimes impacting Minnesotans in recent years has been carjacking. Just a few years ago, such an act was almost unheard of, but that began to change in 2019 when the act of carjacking exploded in the Twin Cities, particularly in Minneapolis. According to the Star Tribune, carjacking increased over 500% between 2019 and 2020. The 2021 total is thought to be over 750 statewide, with more than 650 in Minneapolis alone.

We have all heard the accounts of people accosted as they pulled up to their homes or drove into their garages — many in broad daylight, and many in neighborhoods where this type of violence had been non-existent. An elderly woman was even carjacked as she returned to her car in an Edina grocery store parking lot.

Tragically, along with the explosion in randomness and sheer numbers, there was a notable increase in carjackings occurring with young children buckled into car seats or family pets in the backseats of cars taken from people. These incidents understandably cause significant trauma to the victims, arguably far more so than a traditional robbery of cash or other goods. It’s a trauma that has had a devastating impact on the well-being of Minnesota.

State Court Response

Like many of our public safety systems, our state court system has been slow to respond to this problem. Sadly in 2021, state courts in Minnesota departed downward over 55% of the time from the durational sentencing guidelines for robbery (which included carjackings). Minnesota courts also set a fourth consecutive annual record for departing from the dispositional sentencing guidelines over 45% of the time.

Federal Response

In light of the dramatic increase in carjacking, and the poor response of local prosecutors and our state court at holding robbery offenders accountable, District of Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Lugar announced in May 2022 that his office would begin focusing on carjacking as part of a federal violent crime strategy meant to send a message to violent offenders.

“Violent crime is at an all-time high in the Twin Cities.  We have before us an urgent task.  Every Minnesotan deserves the right to live safely and securely, without fear of shootings, car jackings, and violence.”

US Attorney, Andrew Lugar

In May 2023, U.S. Attorney Lugar announced the indictment of 45 local gang members involved in carjackings, and weapons offenses. Lugar’s office has stood behind his stern warning to offenders and has prosecuted several local offenders in federal court where a conviction results in steeper penalties and much more time behind bars — 85% of a sentence as opposed to just 66% in state prison.

A message has been sent, and it has had a positive effect on would-be offenders. Minneapolis, for example, is on pace to fall below 300 carjackings for the first time in several years. But more enforcement and more accountabilities are needed to eradicate this scourge.

Legislative Session

In May 2023, the DFL-led legislature passed 529 pages of public safety-related legislation — most of it unfortunately aimed at easing the burden of being a criminal offender, rather than holding offenders accountable.

The legislature touted it as a tough new law addressing carjacking. The problem is the law simply defines a new form of robbery but applies no new penalty commensurate with such a devastating act — one that has left countless Minnesotans traumatized.

Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC)

Minnesota has a sentencing guidelines commission that meets monthly. It is a quietly influential group that has a significant impact on Minnesota’s public safety. Read more about the MSGC here.

One of the MSGC’s roles is to establish guidelines for our courts to use when sentencing offenders. When a new law is passed, such as the recent carjacking law, the commission must determine what severity level the new crime should fit into for sentencing purposes.

During its June 2023 meeting, the MSGC met and discussed, among other things, what severity level to apply towards carjacking. In a disappointing development, most of the commissioners failed to recognize the importance of enhancing carjacking above a standard existing robbery sentence. Instead, the majority voted to rank the new carjacking offense exactly like the existing robbery offense. Currently, only the most egregious armed robbery offenses receive a severity ranking of “8,” which would recommend a presumptive prison commitment. Given the trauma carjacking has inflicted on scores of Minnesotans, carjacking deserves to be treated more harshly.

The commission will meet on July 27 to ratify this decision. Ratification would effectively neuter the new carjacking law and relegate it to a simple tracking mechanism. This will not help Minnesotans in their fight to combat and eliminate carjacking. Rather it will send the message to those prone to offend that the status quo in Minnesota’s courts is alive and well.

What can you do?

All is not lost. As part of its deliberative process, the MSGC must hold a public hearing annually. The purpose of the public hearing is to allow the public access to directly address the MSGC on matters of concern.

The 2023 MSGC public hearing is Thursday, July 20, at 1 PM at the Capitol. A link to the meeting schedule can be found here. Any member of the public wishing to let the MSGC know their position on issues like the carjacking severity level ranking can testify in person, online, or by phone call at this meeting. Letters and emails detailing one’s concern can also be forwarded prior to the public meeting.

If you are concerned about the level of violence in Minnesota and concerned that ranking the new carjacking offense commensurate to that of the existing robbery offense will fail to address the seriousness of the carjacking problem, then consider making your opinion known by testifying or writing to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission this July 20.