What is Robbery?
The crime of Robbery is a hybrid offense consisting of Battery, Assault, and Theft by Larceny[i]. Robbery is both a Crime Against the Person, and a Crime Against Property. Robbery is defined in California Penal Code §211 and the Jury Instructions can be found in CALCRIM 1600[ii]. The crime of Robbery is broken into two categories, First Degree Robbery, and Second Degree Robbery; the distinction is based on who the Victim is, or where the Robbery occurred. If the Robbery occurred while the Victim as using an ATM, or if the Victim was operating a bus or cab at the time of the Robbery, it is considered a First Degree Robbery. All other Robberies are considered Second Degree Robbery. The distinction will be discussed further below.
In order to obtain a conviction for First or Second Degree Robbery, the Prosecution must prove the following elements to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The Defendant obtained property that did not belong them;
- When the Defendant obtained the property it was in the possession of the Victim;
- The Defendant took the property from the Victim’s immediate presence;
- The Defendant took the property from the Victim against their will;
- When the Defendant took the property away from the Victim against their will, the Defendant accomplished it by the use of force, threat of force, or fear; AND
- When the Defendant took the Property, they intended to permanently deprive the Victim of that property.
It is a core concept of criminal law that the Prosecution has the burden of proving each and every element of the crime the Defendant is accused of beyond a reasonable doubt. The basis for this is found in the United States Constitution, specifically the Due Process Clause. The basic premise is that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law. Due process in the context of criminal convictions sets the bar very high for the Prosecution, which is where the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt” comes from. Since a conviction cannot stand unless the Prosecution has met their Constitutionally imposed burden, a common defense strategy is simply to negate one or more of the elements of Robbery. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have decades of combined experience representing clients against a variety of criminal charges, including Robbery. There are a number of defense theories in addition to negating elements of the crime itself, but those additional defenses will be discussed below. The remainder of this article will discuss: (1) the specific elements of robbery, (2) the distinction between First Degree Robbery and Second Degree Robbery, (3) the penalties associated with a conviction for robbery; and (4) what Los Angeles Criminal lawyer can do to help you if you have been charged with Robbery.
The Defendant Obtained Property That Did Not Belong Them
The first element of the crime of Robbery is that the Defendant took property that did not belong to them. Since this is a prerequisite to every theft crime, except for the crime of Theft by Embezzlement[iii], a skilled attorney will present vigorous arguments pertaining to basic principles of property law in an effort to negate the very first element of a Robbery charge.
Dan and Victor have been friends for their whole lives. Dan was involved in serious car accident, and suffered significant head injuries, as a result of those injuries Dan became temporarily incapacitated. One day at the hospital, Victor offered to buy a ball that was signed by Ken Griffey Jr. for $5, and put the agreement in writing. Dan signed the contract, and Victor took the baseball. Eventually Dan recovered, and informed Victor that he wanted the baseball back; Victor refused. Dan saw Victor walking around with the baseball one day, and approached him with a knife. Dan demanded the ball back, and Victor complied. A Prosecutor will have a difficult time convicting Dan of Robbery based on this element. A contract that was entered into by someone who was incapable of forming a contract is void. As such, Victor never obtained lawful ownership of the baseball. This means that at the time Dan took the baseball, he was not taking property that didn’t belong to him. It should be noted Dan can be convicted of several other crimes, just not Robbery.
The Property Was in the Possession of the Victim
The next element the Prosecution must prove is that when the Defendant took property that didn’t belong to them, they took it from the Victim themselves, this element is an “or” element. This means that Robbery can be accomplished by taking the property from the person of the Victim, or taking the property while the Victim is in its immediate presence. As a practical matter, this is a necessary corollary to the requirement that the taking be accomplished by force, threat of force, or fear; it would be unreasonable to suggest that the Defendant accomplished the taking of an item through threats and fear if the Victim was not present to be subject to those threats as it related to the item.
It is important to note that the property that is taken from the person of, or in the immediate vicinity of, the Victim does not need to belong to the Victim. The crime is simply taking property that does to belong to the Defendant; it simply has to be in their possession.
Clark is driving his friend Joey’s new car in downtown Los Angeles. Dan approaches Clark while he is stopped at a red light and produces a gun. Dan demands that Clark get out of the car, and leave the keys in the ignition. Dan gets into the car and drives off. Dan can be convicted of a robbery. The car did not belong to Dan, it belonged to Joey. Dan took the car from Clark’s immediate presence, and he took the vehicle against Clark’s will. Finally, Dan accomplished the taking by an implied threat of force. There are additional sentence enhancements for the crime Dan committed. This crime is known as a “carjacking” and is set forth in California Penal Code §215
Against the Victim’s Will
Once the Prosecution has proven to the jury that the Defendant took property that wasn’t theirs, and they took that property from the actual person of the Victim, or from a location that was in the immediate vicinity of the victim, the Prosecution must then prove that the Defendant took the property against the Victim’s will. This element is fairly straightforward, but provides the skilled attorney with another angle to attempt to defeat the Prosecution’s case. Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is familiar with trial strategies, and has perfected the art of trial advocacy of the course of several decades of combined experience.
In an effort to rebut the Prosecutor’s accusation that the Defendant took the property from the Victim against their will, the skilled attorney will present witnesses to testify about the prior relationship between the Victim and the Defendant, other conversations between the Defendant and Victim, and the Defendant’s reputation in the community. The skilled attorney will also present other evidence tending to suggest that the Defendant obtained the property from the Victim in a manner that manifested a willing consent.
While this element is not difficult for the Prosecution to prove, it is susceptible to several trial techniques. In the event that the Prosecution is able to prove this element, they must prove additional elements in order to maintain a conviction for robbery. Specifically, the Prosecutor must show that the primary reason the Defendant was able to take the property was through the use of force, the threat of force, or causing fear in the Victim.
Force, Threat of Force, or Fear
The key difference between Robbery and other forms of theft is that the Defendant obtained the property through the use of force, the threat of force, or by placing the Victim in fear. Taking the property by force is a common sense manner of taking property, when a Defendant takes the property of another person by force they have also committed a battery against the Victim.
A Defendant can also be convicted of Robbery if they obtained the property through threats of force. However, not all threats will be sufficient to maintain a conviction for robbery; there is an implied requirement that the threats cause a reasonable person to believe the force will occur. As such, threats of serious bodily injury or homicide if accompanied by an apparent ability to carry that threat out will be sufficient. Further, a threat to harm a member of the Victim’s immediate family, or a threat to harm someone in the immediate presence of the Victim will be sufficient as well. As a general rule, threats to damage the Victim’s property will not satisfy the “threats of force” prong of this element, unless the threat is to the destroy the home of the Victim.
Robbery is known as a “specific intent crime”, which means that the Defendant must have had a specific purpose when they engaged in the act that constituted the Robbery. The “specific intent” required for a robbery conviction is simply to take the property of another person. Thus, it is not a defense to robbery to claim that the Defendant did not intend to use force on the Victim, or to cause the Victim to be placed in fear. Courts have never gone so far as to say that the crime of Robbery requires intent to cause harm to the Victim, it only requires that some amount of force be utilized to gain possession of property that does not belong to the Defendant.
Intent to Permanently Deprive the Victim of the Property
Another aspect of robbery, which makes it a “specific intent crime”, is that when the Defendant utilized the force, threat of force, or fear to obtain the property, they had the present intention of permanently depriving the victim of their property. This means that if the intent to permanently deprive the Victim of the property is formed after the Defendant obtained the property through force, or threats of force, they have not necessarily committed a robbery.
What Are the Penalties if I am Convicted of Robbery?
Robbery is different from other forms of theft because it is always a felony. Further, Robbery is one of five felonies that can serve as the basis for a murder charge if someone dies during the commission of the crime under the Felony Murder Rule.
As mentioned above, there are two degrees of robbery, first and second. First degree occurs when the robbery takes place at an ATM, or if the Victim of the robber is a driver, who is currently performing their duties as a driver. Examples of this include bus drivers, taxi drivers, trolley car operators, and Uber drivers. All other robberies are second degree robberies.
If you are convicted of First Degree Robbery, you will face incarceration in California State Prison for a period ranging from three (3), four (4), or six (6) years, and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars.
All robberies that are not First degree are second degree robberies. If you are convicted of Second Degree Robbery, you will face imprisonment in California State Prison for a period ranging from two (2), three (3), or five (5) years and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars and felony probation.
It is worth mentioning that multiple charges of Robbery can occur in the same incident, depending on how many Victims there are. If the Defendant approaches person A, B, and C with a gun and demands that they all give him their wallets, the Defendant will be charged with three separate counts of Robbery, this could cause a Defendant to “strike out” under the California Three Strikes Law.
Pursuant to the California Three Strikes Law, most violent felonies are considered a “strikeable offense.” Robbery is considered a violent felony. If the Defendant is convicted of a second “strikeable offense”, California law allows the Court to impose penalties that are up to double what the law allows for non-second strike offenses. In the event that this Robbery is the Defendant’s second strike, they could face jail time for four (4), six (6) or ten (10) years in California State Prison. If the Defendant is receiving their third “strike” they will face twenty-five (25) years to life in California State Prison.
Finally, pursuant to the Felony Murder Rule, a Defendant could be charged with murder if someone dies during the commission of the Robbery, even if the Defendant is not the person who caused that death. There are five (5) felonies that trigger the Felony Murder Rule: (1) Burglary, (2) Arson, (3) Rape, (4) Robbery; and (5) Kidnapping.
I Have Been Charged With Robbery, What Can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Do to Help Me?
Regardless of which degree of Robbery you are being charged with, you are being charged with a felony. Convictions for a felony carry the risk of serving a jail sentence in a state prison. Naturally, being accused of a felony is frightening to you, and your loved ones. If you have been accused of robbery, it is essential that you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately; it will provide you the best opportunity possible to avoid the significant impact a conviction can have on your life.
In addition to the potential of serving time in state prison, a felony violent theft crime can have a significant impact on other aspects of your life. A conviction will remain on your criminal background, which is available to anyone who conducts a background check. Employer’s frequently conduct background checks on potential employees as a screening process, and removing individuals with prior criminal history from the applicant pool. Some employers do not do this, but a conviction for a violent felony involving moral turpitude will likely be difficult for an employer to overlook. Further, you will likely be barred from any employment with the government. Additionally, any licenses you currently possess may become jeopardized if you are convicted, and obtaining licenses in the future may be problematic.
Since a Robbery can be a strikeable offense, you may also be subject to enhanced penalties if you are convicted. The value of skilled representation against a robbery charge cannot be overstated.
Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer has decades of combined experience representing clients in high stakes litigation, and a robbery charge is certainly high stakes. After your FREE initial consultation with your LACL attorney, they will handcraft a unique defense to you and your case. This will provide the best opportunity possible to obtain a positive outcome. You want to contact LACL immediately after you have been accused of robbery so Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will have the most time possible to build a defense to your case, present it to the District Attorney, and prepare for trial. At trial, your attorney will raise a number of defenses to avoid the crippling impact of a robbery conviction. These defenses include:
- You believed, mistakenly, that the property belonged to you;
- You were not the person who committed the Robbery;
- You did not use force, or threats of force;
- It was unreasonable for the Victim to be placed in fear by your actions;
- You did not intend to permanently deprive the Victim of the property at the time you used force or threats of force;
- You could not have developed the required intent to commit a robbery;
If you or a loved one has been accused of First, or Second, Degree Robbery, it is imperative that you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 immediately for a FREE consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.
i i For a comprehensive discussion of these crimes, See our pages on Assault, Battery, Petty Theft, and Grand Theft
ii The Judicial Council of California Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions has drafted and approved jury instructions for every crime set forth in the California Penal Code (“CALCRIM”). Attorneys will frequently submit their own jury instructions, but the CALCRIM instructions provide excellent guidance as to what the Prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction.
[iii] See our page on Embezzlement for a detailed analysis