Essentially, robbery is theft accomplished by violence or the threat of it. Unlike theft or burglary, the crime of robbery almost always requires the presence of a victim who is threatened with bodily harm. If a weapon such as a gun is used or the victim suffers injury, the robbery may be charged as "armed" or "aggravated."
For example, Chris sneaks up on John, demanding John's money while pressing a plastic object into his back, and John gives up his wallet. This would be charged as a robbery. If Chris used an actual gun or John was injured, the crime likely would be elevated to armed or aggravated robbery.
United States law regarding robbery has its roots in the common law that we inherited from the English legal system. States have now codified their robbery laws in their penal codes.
Robbery Overview: The Elements
The laws of each state define robbery in various ways, but the definitions contain the same basic elements. Robbery consists of:
- Taking, with intent to steal,
- the property of others
- from them or in their presence
- against their will
- by violence or threat of force.
As can be seen, the element of force sits at the core of robbery. The timing of the force matters, too. For example, if a thief uses violence only when attempting to flee the scene, the charges would include theft and other offenses such as assault but not necessarily robbery.
The use or threat of force can be slight. If a small amount of violence or intimidation is enough to coerce someone to turn over property (if, say, the assailant is large and powerful and the victim is slight and elderly), then a robbery has occurred.
While the thief doesn't have to use great force in order to commit a robbery, a certain minimal amount is still required. Purse snatching, for instance, requires some resistance by the victim before the theft rises to the level of a robbery. If the robber can remove the purse without any force in excess of what is required to simply take the purse off the victim's person, then a jury may determine that no robbery has taken place.
Robbery Overview: State Laws and Degrees of Severity
States commonly separate robbery into different degrees based on the severity of the crime. A second-degree robbery can become first degree if the robber uses a dangerous weapon or attempts to inflict serious bodily injury. Some states designate this latter type of robbery as aggravated robbery.
Although robbery is primarily a state crime, it sometimes falls under federal jurisdiction. The best example is bank robbery: a bank heist is a federal crime.
Charged With Robbery? A Defense Lawyer Can Help
You'll need a strong advocate on your side if you've been accused of robbery or any other crime. Be sure to speak with an experienced attorney who knows how to persuasively argue your case and challenge the prosecution's evidence. Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer near you today to get started.