Taking someone else’s property through intimidation or force is robbery under California law.
Robbery is always a felony, carrying penalties as high as nine years in state prison and $10,000 in fines for a conviction. Seems pretty simple, but there are a number of wrinkles in California robbery law — as well as “sentence enhancements” — that you should be aware of.
The legal definition of robbery
Let’s start with the legal definition of robbery. In order to secure a conviction for robbery, a prosecutor will have to prove six things:
- You took someone else’s property;
- The victim had possession of the property at the time of the robbery;
- You took the property in their immediate presence;
- It was against their will;
- You used force or fear to keep the other person from resisting;
- And that when you took the property, you meant to take it either permanently or long enough to deprive the owner of most of its value.
That’s a lot. Let’s break down what this actually means.
Taking someone else’s property means that you obtain possession of someone’s property and move it, even just a short distance. For example: This could mean taking someone’s wallet, running 50 feet down the street, getting cold feet and ditching the wallet.
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When the law mentions possession of the property, it means that the victim had control of it or the right to control of it.
Immediate presence means that the victim and their property are in the same location as you, and that they would’ve been able to maintain control of the property if the robbery hadn’t occurred.
It is not robbery if the other person freely consents to giving you possession of their property. However, if it is against their will, then it is. For example: You pull a gun on someone and demand their wallet. They run away, leaving their wallet behind. This was still against their will.
Force means physical violence, and fear means fear of injury to the victim, a family member, the property or someone else at the scene.
Intent to deprive of value means that you had planned on taking the property for a not-insignificant amount of time.
Types of robbery in California
California law divides robbery into first- and second-degree crimes. First-degree robbery is a crime in which any of the following is true:
- The victim is a driver or passenger in a taxi, bus, streetcar, cable car, subway or other transportation for hire;
- The robbery takes place in an inhabited house, boat or trailer;
- The robbery happens while or immediately after the victim visits an ATM.
Like all forms of robbery, first-degree robbery is a felony. It is punishable by up to six years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Second-degree robbery is any case of robbery where none of the above cases is true. The maximum punishment is five years in state prison and fines up to $10,000.
Counts of first- or second-degree robbery are determined by the number of victims, not the value or number of items taken. In other words, if you corner two people in an alley and demand their wallets, but only get one wallet, you could still be charged with two counts of robbery.
Sentence enhancements for robbery in California
Based on the facts of your case, you might be charged with certain “sentence enhancements,” which can change the severity of your penalty. These enhancements can include, but aren’t limited to:
Great bodily injury — If the victim of the robbery suffered a “great bodily injury,” which is determined on a case-by-case basis, this can add 3 to 6 years to your sentence. The jury will be looking at the severity of the injury, resulting pain and required medical care.
Use of a firearm — California’s “10-20-life” law sets harsh penalties for using a firearm while committing a felony. In particular:
- An extra 10 years added to your sentence for using a firearm during a robbery;
- An extra 20 if you fire the gun during the robbery; and
- An extra 25-to-life if you fire a gun that causes “great bodily harm” or death during the robbery.
Robbery in concert — If you and two or more people commit a robbery in an inhabited building, prosecutors can seek a sentence of up to 9 years.
Three Strikes Law — Robbery is considered a “violent felony” in California, so it is subject to the state’s Three Strikes Law. A robbery conviction is counted as a “strike.” This means for a second robbery conviction, you could face twice the normal sentence for the charge.
On the third conviction, you would face 25 years-to-life in state prison.
How to defend against robbery charges
Robbery charges are serious, but if you or someone you know has been charged with robbery, it isn’t hopeless.
If you recall above, a prosecutor in a robbery case has to prove that all six elements of a robbery took place in order to secure a conviction. A skilled criminal defense attorney can examine the facts of the case and work to make sure your side of the story is heard and that your rights are protected.
For example, if the prosecution can’t prove that you used “force or fear” or that maybe you thought the property was yours, then the robbery charges won’t stick.
Robert M. Helfend has been defending cases in the Los Angeles area for more than 30 years, including robbery and armed robbery. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434