Robbery

Robbery is one of the more serious crimes a person can be charged with. It is defined by California Penal Code section 211 as taking the personal property of another person, whether directly off the person, or from their immediate vicinity. Additionally, the taking of the other person's property must be done against their will, and must accomplished through the application of fear or force.

Robbery is, in all cases, a felony, and subjects the criminal defendant to significant penalties. In addition, robbery is a “strike” under California’s three strikes law, and as a result a conviction will result in a mandatory prison sentence unless the Court finds unusual circumstances. Because the consequences of a conviction for robbery can be so significant, it is import to be aware of all the elements that go into the specific crime, as opposed to a lesser crime such as theft from the person.   

What Constitutes Robbery:

First and foremost, robbery is a theft crime. It involves taking and moving the personal property belonging to someone else, with the intent to deprive that person of their property. Without that foundational act, there can be no robbery committed.

Unlike other theft crimes, there are additional elements that must be proven before a person can be convicted of robbery.

First, the theft must be committed in the presence of the victim, whether their property is taken directly off of the person, or is simply near them.

Second, the manner in which the victim's property is taken must be through the application of force, or through fear of the use of force. The use of force or fear as a means to take a person's property may be direct or indirect. A direct use of force or fear is applied directly to the victim (i.e. the perpetrator will harm or threaten to harm the victim.) An indirect use of force or fear involves harming or threatening to harm a third party (such as a spouse or child) or some other property owned by the victim (e.g., threatening to burn down a person's house or kill their pet.)

Under California Penal Code section 212, not only does threatened injury to a victim's family and property support the fear element of a robbery charge; any threat of injury to any person in the presence of the victim at the time the crime is committed can support a robbery charge. What is not specifically covered by section 212 is injury or threat of injury to property not belonging to the victim, or to a person (such as a close friend or romantic partner) who is not physically present during the commission of the crime, and is not a member of the victim's family. 

If all of the above-described elements are present, then the crime of robbery has been committed.

How Does Robbery Differ Compared to Theft From a Person:

The crimes of robbery and theft from the person are similar in some ways. They both involve taking the person property of another person, against their will. In the case of both crimes, the value of the property stolen is irrelevant. However, there are also several significant differences.

In the case of theft from the person, the theft must be of property in the physical possession of the victim. This would include anything in a person's pockets, around their neck, on their head, in their hands, etc. Robbery, however, can involve property in a person's physical possession or in their immediate vicinity. 

Another significant difference is that a robbery must be committed through the application of force or fear, while theft from the person does not. In the case of a robbery, the victim must be aware that their property is being stolen, while a victim of theft from the person may or may not be aware that their property is being stolen.

The other main difference between robbery and theft from the person relates to the severity of the crime, and the penalties associated with it. Theft from the person, while always considered to be "grand theft" (as opposed to "petty theft") is a "wobbler," meaning it can be charged either as a felony or misdemeanor. The maximum penalties for the misdemeanor charge involve a maximum of a year in county jail, and three years in state prison for the felony charge. Robbery, on the other hand, is always charged as a felony, and carries significantly more severe penalties.

How Does a Prosecutor Prove Robbery:

There are actually two variants of robbery, first and second degree. The difference between them being that first degree robberies involve additional circumstances. Absent those circumstances, the robbery is second degree.

In order for a prosecutor to prove that a defendant committed a robbery, they must prove the following:

Second Degree Robbery:

(1) The defendant acted with the intent to deprive the victim of one or more items in their possession or in their immediate vicinity, and

(2) The defendant succeeded in depriving the victim of their property; and

(3) The defendant deprived the victim of their property through the application of force or fear; and

(4) The defendant physically moved the item or items.

First Degree Robbery:   

(1) The defendant acted with the intent to deprive the victim of one or more items in their possession or in their immediate vicinity, and

(2) The defendant succeeded in depriving the victim of their property; and

(3) The defendant deprived the victim of their property through the application of force or fear; and

(4) The defendant physically moved the item or items; and

(5) The defendant committed the act in an inhabited structure or boat, or in a taxi, or on public transportation or against a person who was using, or had just finished using, an ATM; or steals a person's car while they are currently in it (i.e., "carjacking.")

Penalties For Violating Penal Code Sections:

As mentioned earlier, robbery is always treated as a felony. The penalties a defendant may face depend only on whether the robbery is first or second degree.

Penalties for First Degree Robbery:

  1. Imprisonment in a state prison for between three and nine years; and
  2. Payment of restitution

Penalties for Second Degree Robbery:

  1. Imprisonment in a state prison for between two and five years; and/or
  2. Five years formal probation; and
  3. Payment of restitution

Both first and second degree robberies are strikes.  Therefore, the Court can only grant probation if the court finds that there are unusual circumstances.  Such unusual circumstances might include that the perpetrator was young, or that the person had little or no prior record.

While the above are the only penalties a defendant can face for the commission of a robbery; if they commit certain other crimes, or commit the robbery with the use of a firearm, they may face additional, consecutive prison sentences:

  • Up to an additional three to six years in state prison for committing a robbery that results in great bodily injury;
  • Up to an additional ten years in state prison for committing a robbery with the use of a firearm;
  • Up to an additional twenty years in state prison for discharging a firearm during the commission of a robbery; and
  • Up to an additional twenty-five years to life in state prison for discharging a firearm during the commission of a robbery that results in death or great bodily injury.

Common Defenses to Robbery:

There are not as many potential defenses to a robbery charge, as compared to a similar crime like petty or grand theft. However, there are still a number of potential defenses that can either provide a complete defense to the charge, or get the charge reduced to something like a simple theft crime.

Intent is Lacking:

Like other theft crimes, robbery is a specific intent crime. This means that the defendant must act with the specific intent to take personal property belonging to the victim. Therefore, if the defense can show that the defendant did not intend to permanently take the victim's property, then they cannot be convicted of robbery. For example, say the defendant saw someone on the street carrying a purse that looked exactly like one the defendant owns, and the defense can show that the defendant actually believed that the purse actually belonged to them. The defendant cannot be convicted of robbery because they did not form the specific intent to take another person's property, even if they were wrong about the purse belonging to them.

Mistaken Identity:

Robbery is generally considered to be a violent crime, since the application of force or fear is an essential element. During the commission of violent crimes it can be difficult for victims, or even third-party witnesses to calmly and objectively observe everything that is going on. Consequently, it has been known to happen that the wrong person is identified as the perpetrator of a crime. If that happens, and the defense can demonstrate that fact (or generate a reasonable doubt as to the true identity of the perpetrator,) then the defendant cannot be convicted.

Lack of Force or Fear:

The defendant may have intended on taking the property, and did so, but the taking was without force or fear, such as snatching a phone from someone’s hand without a struggle, or someone voluntarily giving the property and then you run away with it.

False Accusations:

It is not unheard of for individuals to make false accusations. If it can be proven that an accusation is completely false, it will provide a complete defense to the crime. On the other hand, even if a theft crime was committed, the victim may fabricate additional elements, such as the threat of force or the use of a firearm, which can elevate a simple theft crime to a robbery. A victim may do this out of spite, or out of pride, or simply due to a mistake of fact. If the defense can show that these additional elements were not present, or at least not provable; the robbery charge can be reduced to petty or grand theft.

Actual Cases:

Pat was walking by an outdoor café.  Jill had her purse hanging by a strap around her chair.  Pat runs by and snatched the purse from the chair Jill was sitting on.  Pat was charged with robbery, but I was able to convince the District Attorney that the theft did not involve force and got the charge reduced to misdemeanor theft from the person.

Peter got into a dispute with his spouse.  Peter’s spouse was holding her phone in her hand.  Peter’s spouse threatened to call the police.  Suddenly, Peter swiped the phone from his spouse’s hand and ran out of the house.  I was able to get the charge reduced to a petty theft because there was no struggle about the phone.

How We can Help:

I have handled hundreds of robbery cases in my career, and often have been able to get the charges reduced or dismissed. I have over twenty-five years’ experience in criminal defense and sat as a Sacramento Superior Court Judicial Officer for 16 years where I presided over thousands of criminal cases.  In my many years in the system I have developed the relationships and the expertise to get you the best possible results on your case.

In defending your case, first I meet with you and we discuss the details of what happened.  Then I obtain the police report and we go over the details of the police report and look for any inconsistencies or inadequacies that we can exploit. We will investigate by interviewing any witnesses, or obtaining any surveillance video.  Then I will enter into the negotiation phase with the prosecutor.  If we are unable to get a favorable plea bargain or dismissal, then we will take the case to a trial.  In these cases I have been successful in trial on a number of occasions.  If you have been arrested for robbery or any other theft crime, you can feel comfortable in calling me and discussing the matter.  My first consultation is at no cost to you.  I can be reached at 916-779-3500 or on the web at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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