Robbery is a theft crime described as using fear or force to take another person’s property from his/her immediate presence and against their will. Robbery is a violation of Penal Code 211, and depending on which degree of robbery the jury finds you guilty of, you could face varying prison sentences and pay significant sums in fines. With the right legal aid, you are better placed to secure the best legal outcome. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team below addresses all you need to know about robbery under California law, including how you can challenge the charges in court.
Robbery Under California Law
Penal Code 211 makes it a felony for any individual to take possession of another individual’s property from his/her immediate presence and use force or fear to accomplish this action.
PC 211’s definition of robbery provides the elements prosecutors must prove in court to secure your conviction. These elements are:
- You took property someone else’s property,
- The property was in another person’s presence,
- You took the property from the person’s immediate presence,
- You took the property against his/her will,
- You accomplished your actions or prevented the individual from resisting through the use of fear or force, and
- You intended to deprive the owner of his/her rights to the property, either permanently or long enough to deprive him/her of a significant portion of its value.
Let us look at each element in more detail.
You take another’s property when you gain possession and move it through a distance. The law does not have a set distance. Therefore, a short distance is enough to warrant robbery charges.
In the Possession of Someone Else
Possession is not limited to touching or holding the property. It also includes constructive possession, which exists when you do not have physical possession or custody of the property but exercise control over it.
The law does not require the victim of the robbery incident to be the property’s owner. He/she only needs to have constructive or actual possession of it.
From Another Person or His/Her Immediate Presence
Prosecutors must prove that the property was in the victim's immediate presence. Property is in another’s immediate presence when it is within the victim’s physical control or observation so that he/she can take possession of it if not presented with fear or force.
For example, Andrew points a gun at a store owner at his home and demands the store owner reveal the combination to the safe in his store, located several miles from his home. Andrew later calls Joe, who is at the store, and gives him the combination. Joe then makes off with the money in the safe.
Though Andrew used fear to obtain the safe combination, the property was not in the store owner’s immediate presence. He was at home, a significant distance from the store. Therefore, Andrew and Joe are not guilty of robbery but guilty of other offenses, including grand theft or petty theft, depending on the value stolen.
Against the Owner’s Will
Taking property against another person’s will means taking the property without his/her consent. An individual gives consent only when he/she understands what they are doing and freely approves your taking the property.
Any intimidation tactic used on the victim removes their ability to give out their property freely. Therefore, if you intimidate a victim enough for him/her to run away and leave his/her property, and you take the property, you are guilty of robbery. The victim did not permit you to take the property.
Use of Fear or Force
Fear or force distinguishes robbery from other theft cases. Penal Code 212 considers the victim’s fear for his/her own life and that of their immediate family or any individual in the victim’s immediate company sufficient to warrant a conviction for robbery. This fear also includes the victim’s fear of injury to the property.
Additionally, courts in the recent past have also deemed robbery to have occurred where defendants drugged victims before taking their property. Drugging is also considered a form of fear or force.
It is also important to address pickpocketing and whether the offense amounts to robbery. Pickpocketing does not involve the use of fear or force. Thus, courts could find you guilty of other theft crimes, not robbery.
An Intention to Deprive the Owner of the Property
The prosecution must prove that you formulated the specific intent to deprive the victim of the property at the time you allegedly committed the offense.
For example, Bob walks in on Karen, his wife, having an affair with Roy. Bob confronts Roy, and in the altercation, Roy drops his phone and runs away. Bob picks up the phone. Roy later accuses Jaden of robbery.
In this scenario, Jaden is not guilty of robbery since he formulated the intent to take the phone after the physical altercation.
Further, the prosecution must also prove that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property or long enough to deprive the owner of a significant portion of the value he/she would enjoy.
For example, Jim is a drug addict. He confronts his mother with a knife and demands her watch. Jim intends to pawn the watch to buy drugs. However, Jim also plans to save up to purchase the watch from the pawn shop.
In this case, Jim is guilty of robbery despite his intention to buy back his mother’s watch. He intended to deprive the mother of her watch for an extended time.
The situation differs from the following example.
Blair gets lost on a hiking trip and cannot contact anyone for help. Days later, he runs into a hiker and demands the hiker's phone to call for help. The hiker hesitates, and Blair pulls out a knife. The hiker gives Blair his cell phone. Blair calls an emergency response team and gives the hiker his phone back.
Blair is not guilty of robbery because he did not deprive the hiker of a significant portion of the hiker’s enjoyment of his phone.
Forms of Robbery
There are two forms of robbery, namely:
- First-degree robbery
- Second-degree robbery
First Degree Robbery
The courts will find you guilty of first-degree robbery if the following are true:
- The robbery victim was a driver or passenger of a taxi cab, bus, trackless trolley, subway, streetcar, or other similar transportation for hire,
- The robbery incident took place in an inhabited trailer, boat, or house — A structure is inhabited if the individual living on the premises is present or has left and intends to return, or
- The robbery occurred immediately after or while the victim was using an ATM.
Second Degree Robbery
Second-degree robbery is any robbery that does not meet first-degree robbery’s definition.
The phrase "Estes robbery" came from the case People v. Estes, where Curtis Estes stole a coat from a store and swung a knife at the department store’s security guard, who attempted to stop him from leaving the store.
This case made it possible for defendants to be charged with robbery if they shoplifted at a store and used fear or force against the store’s employees to facilitate them stealing the store’s merchandise or avoid being caught.
You only commit Estes robbery if you take the stolen items. You are not guilty of Estes' robbery if you take another’s property through false pretenses, for example, by paying for goods with a fraudulent check and leaving with the items.
Penalties if Convicted of Robbery
Robbery is a felony. The penalties for robbery depend on the type of robbery the courts find you guilty of. Further, any aggravating factors will result in additional penalties, as addressed below.
a) First-degree Robbery Penalties
First-degree robbery is a felony punishable by:
- Three, four, or six years in prison,
- A maximum fine of $10,000, or both.
- Formal or felony probation instead of prison time.
However, if you commit first-degree robbery in a structure inhabited jointly by two or more people, your prison sentence could potentially increase to three, six, or nine years if convicted.
b) Second-degree Robbery Penalties
Convictions for second-degree robbery result in the following penalties:
- Two, three, or five years in prison,
- A maximum fine of $10,000, or both.
- Formal or felony probation.
c) Penalties for Robberies With Multiple Victims
A count of robbery depends on the number of victims, not the number of items stolen. Therefore, if you rob three victims, you will face three counts of robbery. Each count imposes the penalties mentioned above upon conviction.
If you rob one victim and steal several items, for example, a phone and a watch, you will face charges for one count of robbery.
d) Sentence Enhancements
Sentence enhancements are based on aggravating factors, including the use of a gun in the robbery incident and the victim sustaining injuries from the robbery incident.
Using a Gun in the Robbery
You would serve significantly longer sentences if you used a firearm in the robbery incident. According to Penal Code 12022.53, defendants who use guns in the commission of a robbery face additional penalties.
- Ten years for personally using the gun.
- Twenty years for personal and deliberately firing a gun, and
- Twenty-five years to life in prison for inflicting great bodily harm with the firearm.
Great Bodily Injury Enhancement
Should the victim of the robbery incident suffer bodily harm, the judge will impose additional penalties pursuant to Penal Code 12022.7.
Under California’s great bodily injury enhancement statute, PC 12022.7, you will receive an additional three to six years to your prison sentence. You will serve the added terms consecutively.
e) A Strike Under California’s Three Strikes Law
Robbery is classified as a violent felony and a strikeable offense under California’s Three Strike Law.
A robbery conviction without a prior strikeable offense on your record means you will earn your first strike. You will serve the penalties the preceding judge imposed.
If the robbery conviction is a subsequent second strike on your record, you will receive double the normal penalties detailed under PC 211. If the robbery conviction is a third strike on your criminal record, a judge will sentence you to 25 years to life in prison.
Defenses You Can Assert
Fortunately, you can fight robbery charges with an experienced attorney’s help. The choice of defense to use in your case depends on the circumstances of your case. The defenses could result in the dismissal of your case or reduced charges.
Here is a look at some of the defenses your attorney could assert.
a) You Are A Victim of Mistaken Identity
Several factors compromise a witness’ testimony when pinning down a defendant as the robber. Some of the errors include the following:
- Lineup errors — Police officers could inadvertently or intentionally give the witness signals identifying you as the suspect. In other situations, police officers, while engaging the victim, could create an environment where the victim feels pressured to identify the offender and pinpoints you as the robber.
- Victim’s recollection — Human memory is subject to compromise due to several factors, including intoxication, trauma, or mental illness. A witness or victim’s testimony is thus questionable if he/she was drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time of the robbery, suffered significant trauma after the incident, or suffers from a mental illness that potentially affects his/her memory.
- Police officers acting on generalities — Witnesses and victims sometimes give general descriptions of the offenders. It is easy for the officers to identify you as the suspect if the general descriptions inform their choice.
Criminal defense attorneys use several approaches for this defense.
Your attorney could request that the judge order a live lineup for the witness. Any inconsistencies with the witness’ previous statements will demonstrate to the jury that you were not the offender. Alternatively, your attorney could provide evidence of the police department’s lineup errors and questioning techniques from past cases to show a pattern of unreliable lineups and less-than-perfect investigations.
b) Honest Belief of Right to Property
A claim of right defense is only applicable when you believe you own a property. The courts would acknowledge this defense even if your belief was unreasonable or mistaken. However, this defense is available for robbery cases involving reclaiming a specific piece of property. It is not applicable in robbery incidents that aim to settle debts, whether unliquidated or liquidated.
For example, Peter used Josh’s painting as collateral for the loan he advanced him. Peter made the final payment, but it did not reflect on Josh’s account. Peter went to Josh’s house to take the picture, and a fight ensued. Peter overpowered Josh and took the painting.
Peter is not guilty of robbery. He believed the painting was rightfully his after he made the final payment, though Josh did not receive the funds.
c) You Did Not Use Fear or Force
The use of fear or force is specific to robbery. Without fear or force, you are not guilty of robbery but of another theft crime. The victim could find you intimidating. However, your intimidating presence does not amount to the use of fear or force. You must take a direct step that proves you used fear or force in the robbery case.
For example, pickpocketing requires simple contact and stealing the victim’s property. However, drugging the victim is a step toward inflicting force or fear. Thus, drugging a victim and stealing their property is robbery.
d) You Were Falsely Accused
False accusations are common in robbery cases. Alleged witnesses and victims falsely accuse a defendant of robbery out of anger, a need for revenge, or hatred for the defendant. In other cases, the actual offenders claim the defendants are the true perpetrators of the crime to conceal their guilt.
Defense attorneys conduct independent investigations to ascertain the truth of the case. Your attorney will demonstrate to the jury any evidence supporting a false accusation to challenge the prosecution’s case.
e) You Did Not Intend to Take the Property
You could be accused of robbery when you took another individual’s property using force or fear, but you did not intend to take the property.
For example, Derrick, while defending himself during a fight, grabs a penknife from the aggressor’s front pocket. He threatens to use it in a bid to stop the aggressor. Derrick later runs away with the knife.
Technically, Derrick took the aggressor’s knife and used fear or force. However, Derrick did not intend to deprive the owner of the property. He only took the knife as a result of using force or fear. Therefore, Derrick is not guilty of robbery.
Attempted Robbery Charges
If you attempted to commit a robbery but failed, prosecutors will pursue attempted robbery charges. Prosecutors will assert that you intended to use fear or force to take another person’s property.
Like in robbery cases, you can be charged with attempted robbery in the first or second degree. Prosecutors must prove the above elements for the specific type of robbery they are pursuing. Further, they have to prove the following to assert that you attempted to rob someone else:
- Though ineffective, you took a direct step to rob another — The immediate action must be more than thinking, planning, or preparing for the crime. It has to put a specific intent to rob another into motion, and
- You intended to commit the crime.
Penalties for Attempted Robbery
You will receive one-half of the penalties you would have received if convicted of robbery. An attempted robbery is a felony offense.
If convicted of an attempted first-degree robbery, you will face the following penalties:
- 18 months, two or three years in prison,
- A maximum fine of $5,000 or both.
If convicted of an attempted second-degree robbery, you will face the following penalties:
- One, one and a half (1.5), or two and a half (2.5) years in prison,
- A maximum fine of $5,000 or both.
You will also receive enhancements for inflicting bodily harm on the victim and for using a firearm in the attempt. Further, attempted robbery is a strikeable offense.
For the District Attorney to drop robbery charges, you will have to plead guilty to grand or petty theft charges.
Grand theft is a crime under Penal Code 487, while petty theft violates Penal Code 488. Theft, as addressed by both statutes, is taking another person’s property without using fear or force. The property value and the type of property stolen are the differentiating factors between the two offenses.
You will face grand theft if the property value exceeds $950 or petty theft if the property’s value is $950 or less. Additionally, you will face grand theft charges if:
- The property you took included a vehicle.
- The property you took included a firearm.
- The property you took included certain animals like a pig, horse, or sheep.
- You took the property off the owner, that is, taking the property from their body, for example, taking clothing.
a) Grand Theft
Grand theft is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors can charge you with a misdemeanor or felony violation.
A conviction on misdemeanor charges results in up to one year in jail. Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in the following penalties:
- Felony probation, or
- Sixteen months, two or three years in jail.
- If theft includes a firearm, you risk 16 months, two, or three years in prison since the crime involving guns is deemed a violent felony. Further, you will receive a strike on your record.
b) Petty Theft
Petty theft is a misdemeanor. If convicted, you will face up to six months in prison and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are confronted with accusations of robbery, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Their experience will help you secure a favorable outcome. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our experienced teams start by assessing your case, conducting an independent investigation, and formulating a winning defense strategy. You can contact us at 424-333-0943 for more information.