The state of California has a number of laws that define crimes based on the theft of another person’s property. Among these laws is a subset known as robbery, which is a felony offense under the California state statute known as Penal Code 211. Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is a legal firm based in Los Angeles with professional criminal defense attorneys that understand the statutes that define robbery, as well as your rights if you are accused of the crime of robbery.

In this article, we will consider the definition of the crime of robbery, examine some of the penalties that can be enforced if you are convicted of robbery, and discuss some possible defenses used if your robbery case is brought to court.

Definition of Robbery Under California Law

The basic definition of robbery is fairly straightforward in California’s penal code. If you take another person’s property – whether that property is in their immediate presence or actually on their person – and the taking of property is against their will and accomplished by using fear or force, then you are guilty of the crime of robbery. (see PC 211.)

Elements of Robbery That Must Be Proven

Let’s break that definition down and examine more closely the elements of a robbery that must be proven by a prosecutor in order to obtain a conviction on the charge of robbery.

The definition of robbery may be broken out into six component parts:

  1. Any property that you took did not belong to you;
  2. That property was possessed by another person;
  3. The property was on the other person, or in his/her presence when you took it;
  4. That property was taken from the other person against their will;
  5. Either force or fear was used to take the property from the other person, or to prevent them from resisting your efforts.
  6. A judge will look to see if the prosecution can demonstrate that you intended to possess the property of the other person permanently, or that you planned to remove it from them for such a period of time as to cause the other person to lose the major portion of the worth of the property.

Taking Property from Another Person

There are two elements involved in the legal definition of taking another person’s property. You must first gain possession of the other person’s property, and you must then move it some distance, even if that distance is very small. These are elements that must be proven in any case against you.

Possession by the Other Person

Under California law, the possession of property by another person does not mean that they are actually touching or holding the property when it was taken. They simply have to have what is known as constructive possession, which means that have control of – or the right of control of – the property.

It is important to know that the person does not have to own any property that is taken; they merely need to have constructive or actual possession of the property. This would include scenarios such as the property of a retail store that was taken from a clerk or other employee; they would be in constructive possession of the property and, if it is taken by force or fear, would constitute a robbery.

Immediate Presence or On the Person

The third element that must be present in order for a crime to classified as a robbery is the taking of property either directly from another person (known as on their person) or taking property that is in that person’s immediate presence. This concept means that the property could be considered within the other person’s physical control, or in such a location as to allow them to maintain possession of the property without the commission of the robbery.

Against the Will

The fourth element that must be present in a robbery case is the element involving the will of the person from whom the property was taken. The property has to be removed against that person’s will. This means that the other person does not give consent for the property to be taken. That person, if they do give consent, must be legally in possession of the property and must understand that they are giving consent. Such consent must also be given freely, with no form of coercion.

Use of Fear or Force

This element is the determinative factor in the difference between other theft charges in the state of California and the charge of robbery. Robbery always includes the element of using force or fear to accomplish the theft.

Force can be any kind of physical action that causes the other person to surrender control of the property being taken. Fear is defined as causing the other person to believe they will be injured, that a family member will be injured, that another person present during the robbery will be injured, or that the property of the person will be damaged or destroyed.

If a person uses drugs to incapacitate another person before removing their property from them, this also constitutes a use of force or fear, as determined in California courts.

Intent to Possess Permanently

The final element that must be proven in a charge of robbery is that a person took the property of another with the intent – at the time of the robbery – to deprive the other person of the property permanently, or for such a period of time as the person would lose the majority of the value of the property, the ability to enjoy the use of the property.

Penalties for Robbery in California

All robbery convictions in California are considered to be felonies, and therefore carry requisite penalties. The exact penalty that will be assigned depends on whether the robbery is classified as either first-degree or second-degree.

First-degree robbery is declared if any of the following elements are involved:

  • A robbery takes place involving the driver or any passenger traveling on a taxi, streetcar, subway, bus, cable car, or other means of public conveyance.
  • A robbery occurs within the confines of any inhabited structure.
  • A robbery occurs involving a person who has just visited an automated teller machine (ATM) while that person is still within a specified radius of the ATM.

The penalty for first-degree robbery will contain a prison sentence between three years and nine years. It may also include terms of felony probation, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

If the elements of robbery are present but lacking any of the elements necessary for first-degree robbery, then the robbery will be classified as second-degree. The penalty for second-degree robbery will contain a prison sentence lasting two years, three years, or five years. The sentence may also include felony probation and a fine of up to $10,000.

Additional Enhancements to Robbery Charges

California’s Penal Code includes some additional charges that are related to robbery, along with additional penalties if these charges are proven along with the robbery.

  • According to Penal Code 12022.7, which is known in California as great bodily injury , if a person commits a robbery and causes any other person to suffer substantial physical injury (aka, great bodily injury) then that person could be sentenced to an additional three to six years on top of the sentence for the underlying robbery conviction.
  • According to California Penal Code 12022.53, if you use a gun in the act of robbery you will receive additional penalties which are significantly longer. This is known as the 10-20-life law and is sometimes referred to as “use a gun and you’re done.”
  • Under this provision, any person who uses a personal firearm while committing a robbery can receive an additional 10 years in prison; if that person uses a personal firearm and intentionally fires it during the act of robbery, the additional sentence is twenty years; and, if the person causes great bodily injury, or another person is killed with the use of a firearm during the robbery, the penalty is an additional twenty-five years to life in prison.

The Three Strike Law in California

Since all robbery convictions are classified as felonies in California, they count as a strike offense under a law known as the Three Strikes Law. The effect of this law is that, if you have received one felony conviction in California and are convicted on a second felony of any type, your sentence for the second felony (second strike) will be doubled.

Furthermore, if you are convicted of a third felony (third strike) you will receive a prison sentence of twenty-five years to life.

Common Defenses for the Charge of Robbery

As with most crimes in the state of California, simply being arrested or charged with a crime is not the same thing as being found guilty of the crime. There are a number of possible defenses that may be a part of presenting your case in court. A qualified criminal defense attorney can help you understand these defenses in more detail. Among the potential defense tactics would be:

No Use of Force or Fear

As previously noted, the key element in differentiating robbery from other crimes involving theft in the state of California is the use of fear or force. If a prosecutor is unable to demonstrate the element of either fear or force, then you cannot be convicted of robbery. It may be that you could be found guilty of a lesser charge involving theft, but the penalties for theft are less severe and tend not to reflect as poorly on your criminal record.

Thought You Had a Right to the Property

There may be situations in which a person who takes property from another does so with the honest belief that they had a right to the property that was taken. California recognizes this as a claim of right defense.

Even if you were involved in a claim of right dispute and are proven wrong about your right to the property that was taken, if it can be shown that your belief was sincere at the time of the crime, the robbery charge can be dismissed.

The one exception to the claim of right defense, however, is the case where the property is taken to settle a debt. In this instance, the claim of right will not apply.

Mistaken Identity

If you have been identified as the perpetrator of a robbery and were selected from a lineup of victims, you may have been a victim of mistaken identity. People are sometimes identified by items of clothing or other personal appearances that are classified as circumstantial evidence, rather than on a face-to-face identification. For example, if you were wearing a dark hoodie and the perpetrator of the crime was also wearing a dark hoodie, this fact alone would not be sufficient to identify you as the robber.

Court procedures require the prosecution to identify you with a level of 100% certainty; there can be no doubt as to the identity of the person who is accused of a crime.

False Accusation

 A person can be falsely accused of a crime, including the crime of robbery. This could be due to a number of circumstances. The actual perpetrator of a crime may accuse another person in order to cover their own guilt. Or, a person may be upset with someone and could try to use a false accusation as a means to upset or harm them.

Again, a qualified professional who understands the terms of robbery can assist in determining exactly what happened in the events surrounding a robbery and can help you decide which form of defense might be most effective in your case.

Charges Related to Robbery

Under Penal Code 211, there are several other charges that share some of the same definitions and are often charged at the same time as robbery. These could include:

  • The Penal Code 215 crime known as carjacking. A charge of carjacking has the same criteria that must be proven as all robbery charges. The only difference is that the stolen property is always a motor vehicle. If you are charged with both robbery and carjacking for a single incident, you can only be convicted or one charge or the other. Like second-degree robbery, a charge of carjacking carries a penalty of prison time equal to three, five, or seven years.
  • Penal Code 487 (also known as grand theft) and Penal Code 488 (also known as petty theft) are related to robbery and are sometimes charged at the same time. The main differentiator is the use of fear or force; if that element is not present, it is not considered a robbery and one of the lesser charges may be enforced. A common example of this charge is pickpocketing, where the property of another person is removed from their presence, but no use of fear or force occurred. Both grand and petty theft are lesser charges under California law, so many attorneys will recommend trying to have your robbery charges reduced to these counts.
  • Penal Code 207 is known as the kidnapping law in California and is related to robbery by the use of fear or force in its commission. Kidnapping could occur in a robbery if the victim is forced to move a substantial distance as part of the crime. An example would be forcing a person to enter an automobile which is then driven for a distance so that the person’s property could be removed. In this instance, a person could be charged with both robbery and kidnapping. The prison sentence for ordinary kidnapping of this kind is three, five, or eight years.
  • If the circumstances of the kidnapping are aggravated during the robbery – if the victim is moved a substantial distance that is not a part of the robbery itself – the sentence, if convicted, is life in prison. There is a possibility of parole in this case.
  • A crime under Penal Code 518 is known as extortion. Extortion involves the use of threats or force in compelling another person to give up their money or other property. The only difference in this charge and robbery is the fact that, in extortion, a victim consents to give up their property. The charge of robbery is upheld when the victim does not consent to give up their property.
  • Finally, there is one other charge that is often linked with robbery; this is known as Penal Code 459, the crime of burglary. Burglary involves entering any room, building, or locked vehicle in order to commit a felony (and remember that robbery is a felony in California).

Find a Robbery Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you are facing a charge of robbery in the Los Angeles, CA area it may be wise to consult with a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney. The law firm of Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer stands ready to assist you in understanding the charges raised against you and in planning for a defense for your case in court. You can call Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314.