Penal Code section 211 defines robbery as the taking of personal property from someone else's person or their immediate presence, against that person’s will, and by means of force or fear.
WHAT MUST THE PROSECUTOR PROVE
Elements of a crime are the facts that a prosecutor must prove in order to get a conviction. To get a conviction under Penal Code section 211, a prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- The defendant took property that did not belong to him/her;
- The property was in the possession of another person;
- The defendant took the property from the other person or from his/her immediate presence;
- The taking was against that other person's will;
- The defendant used fear or force to take the property or prevent the other person from resisting; and
- When using that force or fear, the defendant intended to deprive the owner of that property either permanently or for long enough to deprive him/her of a major portion of its value.
You “take” someone else's property when you
- gain possession of it; AND
- move it a distance. Even a very short distance would suffice.
Example: Jill is hanging out at a department store. After trying on a piece of jewelry she believes is a diamond necklace, she threatens to kill the attendant if the attendant alerts the loss prevention officer of her intent to steal the necklace. Jill then walks away with the necklace. When she has driven about a mile away, Jill realizes that the necklace is not real diamond. She then returns to the store and throws the diamond at the front of the entrance door. In this scenario, Jill is guilty of robbery. Although she did not keep the necklace, she did move it from the store to her car and drove away with it. She therefore met the definition of “taking” under California’s robbery law.
“In the possession of another person”
“Possession” does not necessarily mean that a person is physically holding or touching the property. If s/he has control over the property or the right to control it, then s/he is considered to be in possession of it. (This is also known as “constructive possession”). Note that the victim also does not have to own the property that is stolen. S/he just needs to have actual or constructive possession of it. For example, in the scenario above, the department store attendant is considered to have possession of the necklace.
“From the other person or his/her immediate presence”
For the property to be in a person's “immediate presence,” the property must be within his/her physical control such that s/he would have been able to keep possession of it if the robbery had not occurred. For example, John confronts Jack, the manager of the apartment building where Joe lives, to give John the code to Joe’s apartment so that John can steal Joe’s cash. Threatened by John, Jack acquiesces. John then breaks into Joe’s apartment and steals the cash. In this scenario, John is not guilty of robbery because he did not take the cash from Joe’s immediate possession. John might be guilty of other offenses such as criminal threat, theft, assault, or burglary.
“Against the property owner's will”
Under California robbery law, you take property against an owner's will if s/he does not knowingly and freely consent to you taking this property.
“Use of force or fear”
Unlike other theft crimes, California 211 requires that physical force or threat of force/fear of injury was used in the commission of the theft. Force can include drugging a victim and taking his or her property.
The fear of injury can be fear for
- the victim him/herself,
- a victim’s family member,
- the victim's property, OR
- someone else present during the robbery
“Intent to deprive the owner of the property”
In order for a robbery to occur, the defendant must have intended to deprive the victim of his/her property
- permanently, OR
- for a period long enough to deprive the owner of the major portion or value of the property.
For example, John threatens to kill his girlfriend, Jill, if she does not let him borrow her car. John takes the car for a week and then returns it to Jill. John is guilty of robbery because he intended to deprive Jill of the car for an extended period of time. Now imagine that that John returns the car to Jill after 10 minutes. In this scenario, John is not guilty of robbery because he did not take the car for long enough to deprive Jill of its value.
PENALTIES FOR ROBBERY UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 211
Penalties for first-degree robbery.
First-degree robbery is a robbery in which:
- The victim is a driver or passenger of a bus, taxi, cable car, streetcar, trolley, subway, or other similar transportation for hire;
- The robbery takes place in an inhabited house, trailer or boat (“inhabited” means someone lives there and a) is present or b) has left but plans to return); OR
- The robbery takes place while the victim uses an ATM or right after the victim uses an ATM.
First-degree robbery in California is a felony. Possible punishment includes:
- Three (3), four (4) or six (6) years in California state prison;
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and/or;
- Felony probation
If a first degree robbery in an inhabited structure is committed with two (2) or more other defendants, the potential state prison sentence will increase to three (3), six (6) or nine (9) years.
Penalties for second-degree robbery
Second-degree robbery is any robbery other than a first-degree robbery. Also a felony, second-degree robbery is punishable by:
- Two (2), three (3) or five (5) years in state prison;
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or
- Felony probation.
Robbery cases involving multiple victims
A count of robbery is determined by the number of victims involved, not by the number of pieces of property taken. So, for example, if a defendant sees a couple together and uses force or fear to steal a purse from one of them, he is guilty of two counts of robbery under Penal Code 211. However, if a defendant takes multiple items from one person (i.e. a purse and a watch), he is guilty of only one count of robbery under PC 211.
Sentence enhancements for California Penal Code section robbery
Penal Code 12022.7 PC California's great bodily injury enhancement
If a robbery causes “great bodily injury” (defined as a substantial physical injury) to a victim, then under California penal Code 12022.7, California's great bodily injury enhancement, an additional three (3) to six (6) years may be added to any prison sentence.
Penal Code 12022.53 “10-20-life use a gun and you're done”
Under California's “10-20-life use a gun and you're done” law, defendants who use a gun in the commission of a robbery may be subject to an additional
- Ten (10) years for personally using a firearm in a robbery;
- Twenty (20) years for personally and intentionally firing a gun during a robbery; and
- Twenty-five (25) years to life for causing a person great bodily injury or death with a firearm during a robbery.
California's three strikes law
Penal Code 211 robbery is a “violent” felony and a “strike offense” under California’s three strikes law. A person with a robbery conviction who is later charged with a California felony will be subject to twice the usual sentence for that felony. A third strike will result in a 25 years to life in California state prison.
DEFENSES TO ROBBERY UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 211
There are number of defenses which can be used to fight, reduce, or dismiss charges of robbery under Penal Code 211. These include:
- You did not use force or fear
Even if a robbery victim felt afraid, if you did not use force, or did not take an action to cause fear, then a charge of robbery cannot be proven under Penal Code 211.
- You had a sincere belief that you had a right to the property.
A robbery charge can be defeated by a “claim of right” defense—i.e., that you sincerely (even if mistakenly or unreasonably) believed that the property taken rightfully belonged to you.
- You are a victim of mistaken identity
You may have been charged after the accuser identified you in a pretrial line-up. Pretrial line-ups are rife with errors and routinely lead to false identifications. You might have been identified just by your clothes or height and weight, generalities that also lead to false identification.
- You were falsely accused
You may have been falsely accused by an estranged spouse or girlfriend or a vindictive accuser with a motive to lie.
HOW CAN WE HELP
Negin Yamini will thoroughly investigate the facts of your case to uncover any applicable legal defenses. Simultaneously, Negin will carefully evaluate the prosecution’s case to detect any substantive or procedural weaknesses that she will then use as a basis to dismiss the charges against you or as leverage to negotiate a lesser charge or a reduced sentence on your behalf.