Robbery – the elements, weapons enhancements and defenses
Robbery (Penal Code section 211) is the taking of property from another without consent by force or fear. First degree robbery (robbery in an inhabited house, a cab or bus driver or at an ATM machine) is a felony and carries a possible sentence of from three to nine years in state prison. A second degree robbery is a felony and carries 2, 3, or 5 years in state prison. There can be additional punishment if any weapon was involved and potentially an additional 10, 20 or 25 years to life added if a firearm was used in the robbery. All robberies are “strikes” under California’s “Three Strikes” law.
How can a simple petty theft (shoplifting) turn into a robbery?
In some situations, the D.A. may file robbery from what seems like a shoplifting case. In 1983, a California case (People v. Estes) expanded what can be charged as a robbery. There is a requirement that the property must be taken by force or fear for a theft to be a robbery. In the Estes case, the suspect had taken property from a store – not by force. When a security guard tried to stop him, Estes pulled out a knife and swung it at the security guard. By using force to stop the security guard from regaining the property, it satisfied the “force” element.
This gave prosecutors a new way to elevate a misdemeanor theft into a felony robbery. Often, the security guards will attempt to apprehend a shoplifting suspect and a struggle ensues. Why? Because the security guards are not clearly identifying themselves. Many people that are confronted and accused of theft do not resist in any way. But if the person panics or isn’t sure who is grabbing them and accusing them of theft, they fight back or struggle to pull away. That could make them face robbery charges. Obviously, the difference between a petty theft and a robbery conviction is huge.
Can there be multiple victims of the same robbery?
The short answer is yes. In a robbery, property has to be taken from a person or their “immediate presence.” More than one person can be in possession of the same item. For example, if there are two clerks working at a liquor store behind the counter. A person comes in, flashes a gun and demands the money from the register. One clerk complies out of fear and empties the register. Even if only on person physically handed over the money, they were both “in possession” of the money, so both can be charged as victims of robbery. If convicted, the person would now have two strikes on their record (not to mention the possible sentence of many years for the robbery charge and gun use enhancements).
Every case is unique and robbery charges, like any others, can be beat. Improper police procedures, illegal searches and Miranda violations may lead to suppression of evidence. Eyewitness identifications can be challenged. Let me know if I can help.