Unlawful taking of property from a place or a person by use of force or threat is termed as robbery. But some robbery arrests may arise from false allegations due to malice or mistaken identity. If you are within or around Los Angeles, CA, working with the LA Criminal Defense Attorney will be of help in defending you from the charges against you. This article covers everything you should know about robbery including the legal definition of robbery in California, elements of the crime, penalties and the possible defense strategies. Furthermore, we will explain some of the crimes that are often charged instead or alongside robbery. Read through this article to gain an insight into robbery and know how you can get in touch with us.
Legal Definition of Robbery in California
Under California penal code 211 PC, the crime of robbery is defined broadly as theft involving the use of force or fear. As such, it is one of the felonious crimes that are likely to result in prison sentences. To be guilty of robbery, the prosecution must prove to the court that:
- You took another person’s property;
- The property was in possession of another person;
- You took it from that person’s immediate presence;
- Your taking of the property was against the person's will;
- To accomplish the act, you used fear or force; and
- Your intention was to permanently deny the owner the freedom to use or enjoy the services of the property in questions.
To understand the legal description of robbery above clearly, the following definition of specific terms will assist:
- Taking of Property
You are said to have taken someone’s property if you gain access or possession of the property and moved it for some distance regardless of whether it is a short or long distance.
Being in possession of another person’s property not only imply physically touching or holding of the property but also having direct control or right to control the property in question. Such a state of being in control of a property is also termed as “constructive possession”.
- From Immediate Presence of Another Person
For robbery crime to suffice, you must have taken the property from a person or their immediate presence. The property is termed to be in your immediate presence if it is within your physical control. This means that had it not been for the robbery, the person would have been able to keep the property’s possession.
- Against the Will of the Owner
You are viewed to have taken the property of another person against his or her will if the person did not consent to your action. Consent implies that the person was aware of your taking and actually permitted you to take. However, consent must not be achieved through force or coercion. It must be freely given by the property owner.
- Use of Threat, Fear or Force
This element provides a clear cut between mere California theft and robbery. Robbery involves fear and force while theft does not. For the sake of California robbery laws, force implies ‘physical force’ such as wrestling down the victim, and fear implies threatening the victim that injury will befall him or her, family member, the property itself or another person present in the scene of the crime. PC 211 also recognizes drugging of the victim as a form of “fear”.
- Intent/View to Deprive the Owner of the Property
This implies that, while taking the property from the owner, you had a motive of depriving him or her of their ownership permanently or for a period long enough for the person to lose a substantial portion of the property or its enjoyment.
What are the Penalties for PC 211?
Robbery can be classified into two; first-degree offense and second-degree offense. Consequently, the penalties will differ based on this classification. Robbery is termed as first degree if;
- It takes place in an inhabited place building, trailer, house;
- The victim is a driver of taxi, subway, taxi, bus, streetcar or any other transportation unit;
- It takes place within or just after the victim has used an ATM or any money vending machine.
A structure like a house qualifies to be inhabited if a person lives in it and during the incident, the person was present or had left but with an intention to return.
First-degree robbery is often treated in California as felony whose punishments include fines not exceeding 10000 dollars, State prison term of either three, four, or six years, and formal probation that lasts between three and five years. The probation period is full of conditions which you must adhere to. Some of them include paying off the victim’s restitution or medical bills and doing some community work. Violation of any of these conditions leads to termination of the probation term and consequent return to the prison. Also, you will be sentenced to the possible maximum prison term. Note that, if you committed robbery as a gang of two or more people, the possible prison term increases to either three, six or nine years from the usual three, four or six.
Second-degree robbery is a robbery that does not have all the features of the first-degree robbery. That is, it does not involve a victim who has just come from an ATM or a driver/passengers in a vehicle. It neither does involve any inhabited structure like a house, boat or trailer. Specifically, it is a robbery that takes place outside the bounds of the first-degree robbery elements. The penalties for second-degree robbery include formal probation for three to five years, a maximum court fine of 10000 dollars and two, three or five years in prison.
In connection to robbery charges penalties, there is the issue of “multiple victim robberies”. Robbery charges are counted or determined by the number of people you involved in the act and not on the number or amount of property you allegedly took away. For example, if by use of fear, you threatened three people but stole a wallet from one of them only, you will be accused of three counts of robbery. However, if you took more than one item from one person, for example, a phone, wallet and some jewelry, you will be accused of one count of robbery.
California Robbery Sentence Enhancement
There are some charges in California that will serve to enhance the penalties for the robbery charges. Some of them include:
PC 12022; California Great Bodily Injury Enhancement
You face this enhancement if, during the commission of the robbery, you subject another person to great bodily injury, also termed as substantial physical injuries. The enhanced sentence is usually about three to six years above the normal robbery sentence.
PC 12022.53; Robbery with a Gun
The maximum penalty for this offense is life imprisonment. It is often dubbed, “use a gun and you are done”. Specifically, if during the robbery you use a gun, you will receive an addition of ten years for using a firearm, twenty years for firing a gun intentionally during the act and twenty-five to life for killing or injuring a person using a firearm while committing robbery.
California Three Strike
A ‘Strike offense’ in California refers to any violent felony that carries an additional sentence for subsequent convictions. Robbery is one of them and hence, it is classified as a three strikes offense. The consequence of having a strike offense in your record is that, if you are later charged with another felony, you will receive a sentence that is two times the normal for that particular offense. Worse enough, if you commit three strike offense and by bad luck, robbery happens to be one of them, you will be sentenced to 25 years to life imprisonment in state prison.
What are the Common Defense for PC 211?
- You never used fear or force to take the property
One of the primary element of robbery is the use of fear or force. Failure of the prosecution to prove this element will automatically disqualify your act from being viewed as robbery. Instead, you may be charged for other forms of crimes like theft which often carry less severe penalties. In addition, such charges are associated with less severe stigma compared to robbery.
Sometimes, your intimidation alone is enough to cause the victims to surrender their property for you. On such a case, you used no fear or force. Therefore, if your attorney can substantiate this claim, you may end up not being charged with robbery because you didn’t use fear or force.
- You honestly had a belief that the property was yours
If you took property that you honestly believed that it was yours or you had a right to own it, your robbery charges should be dismissed. It is commonly termed as “claim of right” and mostly applies when you mistook your property for another person’s. It is however not applicable where your taking of property was to settle a debt, for example, if you took someone’s bicycle because he or she owes you some money that has not been settled.
- Mistaken identity
In most cases, perpetrators of robbery are identified in the pretrial line ups where the victim is made to identify the specific person from a group of suspected individuals. As a result, you may end up being accused of the offense you did not commit. It is also true that most robbers cover their faces with masks during a robbery; hence, the victim will be made to identify the alleged perpetrator by some physical features like height, weight or even clothing. The victim may wrongly pick you for the offense you never committed. An experienced attorney will be of help here as he or she will scrutinize the method used in identification. If it is based more on less reliable evidence, he or she can refute the charges. Furthermore, the attorney will constantly poke holes in the evidence and at the same time, reminding the jury that no conviction should be made unless certainty is guaranteed.
- False accusation
Many robbery convicts are victims of the wrong accusation. There are many reasons that could result in you being wrongly accused. For example, an actual robbery perpetrator may accuse you with a view of covering his or her own guilt. A jealous or angry ex-spouse may also accuse you falsely as a way of revenge or means to take control over you. Others may accuse you falsely out of malice. In whatever reason, an experienced attorney will conduct a thorough investigation on the case to find out the truth about the offense and the facts behind it.
Charges Related to PC 211 Robbery
There are other crimes in California whose elements of the crime are similar or close to those of robbery. Often, they may be charged alongside or instead of PC 211. Some of them include:
Carjacking; PC 215
This legal section makes it a crime for one to use force or fear and take another person’s vehicle. This crime is similar to robbery only that the property involved in this case is a vehicle. As such, you may be convicted of both of the offense or any one of them. To be guilty of carjacking, the prosecutor must prove to the court that the person (victim) was in possession of the car. By using fear or force, you took the vehicle from the person against his or her will. And that you had a view of depriving him or her the vehicle either temporarily or permanently.
Through your attorney, you can always defend yourself against carjacking charges by citing consent from the owner, mistaken identity or false accusation. The major element of the crime for carjacking is the use of fear and force; therefore, you can claim that there was no use of such force or fear during the commission of the crime.
PC 215 is treated as a felony whose penalties are; imprisonment in state prison for either three, five or nine years, fines not exceeding 10000 dollars and up to one-year probation in jail. The penalties for carjacking are sometimes enhanced or increased if, during the incident, a gun was used, the crime was gang-related, or there were deaths or great bodily injuries to the victims affected.
Kidnapping; PEN 207
This involves the use of fear or force to move or ferry a person from one place to another (substantial distance). Elements that need to be confirmed for kidnapping charges are;
- You moved another person;
- For a reasonable or substantial distance;
- Without the consent of that person; and
- By use of fear or force.
Use of fear or force implies that you inflicted actual physical force on the victim or you threatened to cause harm if they failed to comply. If you moved a victim for a reasonable distance using a vehicle with a view of robbing him or her, you will be charged with both robbery and kidnapping. Kidnapping with a view of robbing is treated seriously in California and if convicted of it, you may face life imprisonment. A mere kidnapping charges penalties are also severe and often include three, five or eight year’s state prison terms.
You can defend yourself against kidnapping cases by claiming that, the victim consented to be moved by you, the distance you moved the victim was not enough to guarantee for kidnapping charges or even lack of enough proof or evidence linking you to the offense. You can also argue that you were just present during the incident but you are not the one who actually did kidnapping. False accusation and mistaken identity are other defense strategies you can employ against kidnapping.
Burglary; PEN 459
Burglary as crime involves entry into a residential or a commercial room, building or structure with a view of committing theft or any felonious act once inside it. Most often, robbery is one of the felonies that one intends to commit during a burglary. You are accused of burglary for just entering even if your primary intentions of stealing or committing a felony did not succeed. Like robbery charges, burglary is classified as a first or second degree. The first-degree burglary is burglary involving a residential place like a house while second-degree burglary is a burglary that targets other structures other than a residence. For example; businesses or property stores.
The penalties for the first-degree burglary include 2, 4 or six years term in state prison. Second-degree burglary is wobbler. This implies that the prosecution can decide to charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. As a felony, the possible penalties include 16 months, two or three years in county jail. As a misdemeanor, the penalty is a maximum of one year in the county jail.
Shoplifting is an exceptional form of burglary and is governed by PEN 459.5. You commit the offense if, during business hours, you enter a commercial building or a structure with the intention of stealing goods worth not more than 950 dollars. Unlike burglary, shoplifting is a misdemeanor.
There are three avenues you can defend yourself against burglary charges. These include cases of mistaken identity, lack of an intent to execute or commit an offense at the incident you entered into building, structure or business. You can also argue that you had a strong belief that the goods or property you are accused of stealing, were rightfully yours.
Extortion; PEN 518
The crime is also termed as “blackmail”. You commit the crime of extortion if you;
- Compel another person to give you his or her money;
- Threatened or forcefully compel a public servant to do some official works to you; or,
- As an official officer, you use your authority to compel another person to give you or to another person his or her property.
The act often involves the use of force but unlike robbery, the victim of extortion often consent to give out their property after you have forced them. Another difference is that, in extortion, fear not only result from a threat to cause harm but also threats to either: expose certain secrets, accuse someone of a crime, or report someone’s migratory status which could be in question. The victim to avoid all the threats decides to consent to your demand for their belongings.
Extortion is one of the serious offenses and hence treated as a felony. Its penalties include two, three, or four years in county jail. A fine of 10000 dollars can also be imposed on you as an addition or alternative to the jail term. To defend yourself against extortion, you or through a competent attorney can argue that;
- you never coerced or forced the victim to give you their property,
- You are a victim mistaken identity;
- You are falsely accused
PC 487 & 488; Grand Theft and Petty Theft
You are charged with these two offenses if you unlawfully take another person’s property. To be charged with grand theft, the value of the property you are accused of taking should be 950 dollars or above. If the value is below 950 dollars, you will be charged with petty theft. Both crimes are specifically defined based on the means through which you committed them. For instance, you can commit grand or petty theft by larceny, trick, false pretense or by embezzlement.
Petty theft is treated as a misdemeanor and attracts a maximum penalty of six months in county jail. On the other hand, grand theft is charged as a wobbler hence can be viewed as a felony or a misdemeanor. The choice often depends on the prosecutor’s discretion. The possible penalties for felony grand theft are:
- A maximum of three years in state prison;
- A maximum fine of 10000 dollars,
- Both prison terms and fines.
As a misdemeanor, the penalties for grand theft include a maximum jail term of six months, fines not exceeding 1000 dollars, or in some cases, fines and jail terms. It is, therefore, true that the penalties of grand theft even if treated as a felony, do not exceed those of robbery charges. As such, prosecutors would always strive at reducing your robbery charges to theft cases if they are unable to dismiss them.
The legal defense you can use against the charges is a false accusation, the presence of consent and claim of right. You can also claim that you had no intention to steal.